Seagulls that are mysteriously dying on 3 acres of Port of San Francisco property are succumbing to overdoses of mold, not waste from a nearby animal rendering plant, according to state wildlife officials.
Necropsies performed by the state Department of Fish and Game reveal that birds are dying at Pier 94 because they inhale unusually high amounts of aspergillus, a naturally forming fungus commonly found in decaying vegetation. Scientists say they know this because when the birds’ breasts are pulled back, their insides look “exactly like your old, moldy bread.”
“It is a fungus you can find almost anywhere,” said Dr. Julia Burco, a wildlife veterinarian with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife who specializes in the disease aspergillosis. “They’re exposed and it takes about 42 to 78 hours for them to succumb.”
For more than a decade, upwards of 20 seagulls a month have died on the property just north of the shuttered Hunters Point Naval Shipyard, but the mystery has never been solved.
The nearby Darling International, which produces oil from animal byproducts for pet food, animal feed and soaps, has taken some heat for harming the birds.
“They’ve been really cooperative. They stopped using rat bait and covered exposed areas … but it’s not the rendering plant,” Burco said.
A state Department of Fish and Game official acknowledged that the gulls do occasionally get into Darling’s oil, but not any more often than they die from being hit by cars in industrial areas.
Instead, investigators are testing the air at a Recology recycling facility on Pier 96, where gulls pick at more than 650 tons of bottles, cans and paper waiting to be shipped to appropriate foundries.
Recology spokesman Robert Reed said everything is constantly moving, and the plant does not deal with waste or compost, so the tests probably won’t result in an abundance of mold.
“There’s no food and there’s no odor,” Reed said of the facility.
Waste Solutions Group at Pier 92 crates truckloads of both hazardous and nonhazardous soil by rail, but the manager says it’s not his company either.
“Try Darling or Recology,” manager Larry Frias said.
The progress of the investigation will be revealed to The City’s animal commission today.