First batch of SF Bay birds cleaned of mystery goo released into wild 

click to enlarge Two dozen birds — 23 surf scoters and one scaup — that had once been covered in a mystery goo were released into the wild at Fort Baker in Sausalito. The birds were transported in boxes to the shoreline before their release. The mystery substance remains unidentified and leads to the birds coming down with hypothermia. - GABRIELLE LURIE/SPECIAL TO THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Gabrielle Lurie/Special to the S.F. Examiner
  • Two dozen birds — 23 surf scoters and one scaup — that had once been covered in a mystery goo were released into the wild at Fort Baker in Sausalito. The birds were transported in boxes to the shoreline before their release. The mystery substance remains unidentified and leads to the birds coming down with hypothermia.

SAUSALITO — To the tune of squawking seagulls against a backdrop of the Golden Gate Bridge, two dozen seabirds freshly cleaned of a still-unknown gooey substance scurried from their plastic boxes late Wednesday morning and splashed into San Francisco Bay.

Some birds darted into the water alone, while others swam or flew away in groups.

It was evident that each of the 23 surf scoters and one scaup — the first batch of birds released after being found coated by an unknown substance in the Bay this month — were eager to rejoin the 100,000 or so other seabirds in their native habitat off the waterfront at Fort Baker.

"This is why we do this work. This is what it's all about," said Barbara Callahan, executive director of the nonprofit International Bird Rescue that has received more than 300 of the coated seabirds since mid- January.

It was a particularly emotional moment for Callahan, who has seen dozens of volunteers come forward in the past two weeks to help wash and revive the sticky seabirds.

"We hope to never see the birds again," Callahan said with a chuckle just before a handful of volunteers and employees began carrying plastic boxes containing the birds down to the shoreline.

The birds set free Wednesday are marked with a band from the federal government that allows for tracking the animals. They have undergone extensive testing to ensure they can survive on their own again, and rescuers released them in the morning to give them a full day to find food.

"They're eating well, their behavior is normal and they are ready for reintroduction to the wild," Callahan said.

Of the 323 seabirds — primarily surf scoters, horned grebes, scaups and common goldeneyes — taken in by the bird rescue center in Fairfield as part of the mystery goo recovery, 102 died and 197 were still receiving care as of Wednesday.

Authorities have yet to announce the origin and identity of the contaminant.

To date, more than 200 birds died as a result of the mystery goo, which prevents the birds from shielding themselves against the elements, causing hypothermia.

"These are lucky birds," Callahan said of those that were released Wednesday.

However, thousands of the same species of birds that live where the contaminated birds were found — primarily along the Alameda County coast — were not impacted, which Callahan said likely means whatever happened was an isolated incident.

"Whatever this event was, I believe it was very localized," Callahan said. "Even if the birds choose to go back to [the East Bay], they'll have a very good chance of living the rest of their life as they normally would have."

The center has not received any new birds since Jan. 22.

Laboratories and investigators with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, along with the federal government and private companies, have been unable to identify the goo.

Authorities have ruled out petroleum and polyisobutene, which is commonly found in rubber gloves, and the substance is also not believed to be vegetable or fish oil.

"It is frustrating that we don't know what the substance is, but we're working hard with the lab ... to identify the substance," Game Warden Scott Murtha said.

Russ Curtis, technology manager for the International Bird Rescue center, said the substance is clear, odorless and resembles rubber cement.

Also on Wednesday morning, the rescue center released eight birds rehabilitated from unrelated issues. The rescue center hopes to release more birds impacted by the mystery goo this weekend.

About The Author

Laura Dudnick

Bio:
Laura Dudnick, a Bay Area native, covers education and planning for The San Francisco Examiner. She previously worked as a senior local editor for Patch.com, and as the San Mateo County bureau reporter and weekend editor for Bay City News Service.
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