Peak tides could spread oil spilled in bay

Peak tides could spread oil spilled in San Francisco Bay farther, officials said, as at least one oiled bird washed up dead Sunday on a beach that had been declared safe and the number of birds killed by the spill climbed.

Most of the oil floating on the water had already washed up on beaches or been recovered by cleanup teams by early last week, according to an analysis of the Nov. 7 spill's environmental impact issued by federal and state officials.

But tides predicted to peak shortly after Thanksgiving could wash sticky, thick balls of oil back off the beaches and spread them to places previously unaffected by the spill, according to the report.

More than 16,000 gallons of oil had been collected and another 4,000 gallons had evaporated by Sunday, a joint statement issued by the Coast Guard and wildlife officials said.

The cargo ship Cosco Busan poured 58,000 gallons of heavy black fuel into the bay when it struck a San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge support, tearing a 100-foot gash in the ship's fuel tanks.

The agencies' environmental report said that tarballs could persist in the bay through the final days of the month. As sand begins sticking to the globules of oiul, they may begin to sink, the report said.

Meanwhile, a dead bird covered in oil was recovered on a beach in Pacifica along the San Mateo County coast south of San Francisco that was reopened Friday after being cleaned, underscoring the lasting effects of the spill on Bay Area ecosystems.

The number of oiled birds found dead or that died after being taken to rescue centers neared 1,400 Sunday as the total number of birds blackened by the spill topped 2,000.

About 18 beaches and piers remained closed over the weekend while cleanup crews worked to recover more oil before the onset of higher tides.

Pacifica is the farthest point south that oilfrom the spill has been reported. But the agencies' analysis said there was a “slight chance” that some oil could reach as far as Ano Nuevo, a pristine wilderness coastline more than 40 miles farther south that hosts the world's largest mainland breeding colony for the northern elephant seal.

“A few scattered tarballs” could also end up near the Farallon Islands, a wildlife refuge about 26 miles off the coast, if strong winds over the next week push the oil out to sea, the report said.

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