Rescuers hope to release first batch of cleaned birds; mystery goo in SF Bay still unidentified

This week, wildlife rescue officials hope to release the first batch of seabirds contaminated by an unknown goo in San Francisco Bay earlier this month, though the identity and source of the sticky substance remains a mystery.

As of Monday, 247 birds – primarily surf scoters, horned grebes, scaups and common goldeneyes – were recovering at the International Bird Rescue center in Fairfield. Another 75 died either on the way to or at the center, bringing the total number of dead birds to more than 200 regionwide.

The birds were found primarily along the coastal East Bay region, though at least two were discovered in Foster City and another in Point Richmond.

Some birds need to be washed multiple times to remove the substance, which is described as clear, odorless and similar to rubber cement, said Russ Curtis, technology manager for International Bird Rescue.

The International Bird Rescue says it plans to release the first group of birds treated back into the wild at the Fort Baker boat launch in Sausalito at 10 a.m. Wednesday.

Authorities have determined the compound is not petroleum or polyisobutene, which is commonly found in rubber gloves. Laboratories and investigators from the state and federal government, along with private companies, are still trying to identify the substance, said spokeswoman Mary Fricke of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

There is no specific test or tool to analyze the chemicals impacting the birds. Rather, the investigation involves a “complex and gradual process of elimination of possible chemicals,” Fricke said.

Meanwhile, the International Bird Rescue has been using baking soda, vinegar and Dawn dish washing liquid to clean the birds. If left contaminated, the birds die as a result of hypothermia. Once coated in the substance, the birds are no longer shielded from the elements and cannot fly to find food.

Before they are released, the birds will undergo extensive health checks that include testing their vital signs and ensuring they are completely free of soap and goo.

“We want to make sure the birds are healthy enough to go into the wild,” Curtis said.

If you would like to donate to support the care of birds coated by this mystery goo, click the following link: https://secure.commonground.convio.com/IntBirdRescue/donate2015/

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