A batch of 24 seabirds that were contaminated by an unknown goo in the San Francisco Bay were released this week after getting a good cleaning and recovering at the International Bird Rescue center in Fairfield, CA.
The birds – which include surf scoters, common goldeneyes, horned grebes and scaups – first began turning up along the shoreline about 10 days ago coated in a viscous, clear gunk that looks like rubber cement.
Since then, over 322 birds have been admitted to the International Bird Rescue center and nearly 250 have been cleaned and are recuperating in pools. Interested parties can coo over the recovering seabirds through the center’s BirdCam. The nonprofit is also providing updates on its blog.
The staff clean the birds with a mixture of baking soda, vinegar and dish washing liquid.
If they are not cleaned, the substance stops the birds from being able to insulate themselves, which can result in hypothermia, according to Andrew Hughan, a spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“It killed the birds because they froze to death,” Hughan told SFGate. “It sapped all the heat out of them. They were not poisoned. They died because of a loss of body heat.”
Around 200 birds have died as a result of the goo and officials are still trying to determine what the substance is. The California Office of Spill Prevention and Response determined that the goo is not petroleum and the U.S. Coast Guard found no evidence of a spill.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife scientists are using infrared technology, mass spectrometry and nuclear magnetic resonance to classify the substance. They are also sending samples to laboratories at the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Department of Toxic Substances Control, according to KQED.
Mary Fricke, also a spokesperson with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, told the San Francisco Examiner that laboratories and investigators from the state and federal government, along with private companies, are still trying to identify the substance. It is a “complex and gradual process of elimination of possible chemicals,” she said.