Over in England, dead birds are washing ashore in large numbers on beaches in Devon and Cornwall for the second time this year. The birds, mostly guillemots (i.e., murres), but with a smattering of gannets, razorbills, and cormorants, are coated with a white, gluelike substance. So far there have been an estimated 200 birds affected by this substance since last week, with more suspected to wash up as prevailing winds and currents drive the carcasses to shore.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has been taking in birds found coated in the substance that are still alive and using toothbrushes, “washing-up liquid,” and margarine to try and clean them. So far they have rescued 95 birds, but 25 have died as of Monday.
This kind of thing is tragic for both the birds and for the human population in the affected areas. Besides the emotional trauma of finding dozens of dead birds, there are economic implications for those areas where tourism is a large part of the economy.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time this year a weird sticky substance has been found coating dead birds. In February, an estimated 300 shorebirds were found covered in what is believed to be the same substance. Tests run during the February incident determined that the sticky stuff was polyisobutene, a relatively common chemical aboard ships. Although testing is still in progress, it seems likely that this is the same thing.
Currently, polyisobutene can be legally released into ocean waters under certain conditions. In light of these events, the RPSB has called for polyisobutene to be reclassified and its discharge into ocean waters outlawed. The British coastguard has been working to determine the source of the chemical, but has been unable to do so.
More information from the BBC can be found here.