The California Dept.
of Fish and Game Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR)
and U.S. Coast Guard have determined that samples from the
San Mateo Mystery Spill match oil samples from the Point Reyes
I and II tarball incidents, which occurred from November 16,
1997, off and on through February 20, 1998. OSPR scientists
believe that incident may have killed as many as 10,000 seabirds.
Over 2,000 birds were collected, that winter.
"The fact that these spill samples match
gives more weight to the possibility that the oil came from
a sunken vessel," said OSPR Administrator Harlan Henderson,
"but we haven't ruled out other possibilities. We are
committed to continue using all the resources and technologies
available to find the source of this oil." OSPR's Petroleum
Chemistry Lab is comparing oil samples taken from bird feathers,
tarballs, and the sheen the Coast Guard found in mid-December,
with oil from past spills and from sunken vessels, wherever
possible. To date, the PCL has tested approximately 50 of
the 80 oil samples it has received.
The Coast Guard's Marine Safety Laboratory in
Groton, Connecticut, independently confirmed the State's finding
that oil samples from the current "mystery spill"
is the same product as that collected from birds and tarballs
in the 1997-98 incidents.
Investigators from the Coast Guard, OSPR and the
State Lands Commission identified several vessels that transited
the area on multiple occasions, and have sent oil samples
to their labs for analysis. OSPR has purchased satellite images
of the waters off northern-central California, one of which
shows three oil slicks, south of the Farallon Islands. Investigators
will compare the slick locations in the satellite images to
vessel movement and sunken vessel data.
The Coast Guard and OSPR - which make-up the Unified
Command directing response to the oil spill that has injured
over 1,250 seabirds- have expanded their investigation in
the current bird-oiling case. They have created a "Source
Identification Team" to research all possible sources
of the oil, including sunken vessels. In addition to Coast
Guard and OSPR personnel, that team includes National Oceanic
and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and State Lands Commission
The search for an oil slick continues with overflights
by either the Dept. of Fish and Game, the Coast Guard or their
contractor, Clean Bay. Sites of known sunken vessels that
may contain petroleum products have been identified, and the
pilots have been directed to fly over the sites, when they
search for oil. Known sunken vessels in the area include the
W.W.II aircraft carrier USS Independence, two Navy oilers,
and the aft end of the chemical tanker Puerto Rican.
The agencies are also looking into the use of
underwater R.O.V.s (Remotely-Operated-Vehicles) and side-looking
sonar equipment that could help pinpoint exact wreck locations
and possible leaks from them. "The Coast Guard is analyzing
this recurring problem from every angle, and we won't be satisfied
until the mystery is solved," said Lt. Tim Callister,
US Coast Guard. "We will continue to support wildlife
recovery and rehabilitation efforts as long as it takes."
Another process being employed is "hind-casting"
- studying the reverse trajectory of ocean currents, to see
from where they might have carried oil and/or oiled wildlife
to our shores. Staff are studying ocean currents, their flow
directions and seasonal changes, then plotting the patterns
backwards, hoping THAT will lead to the source or sources.
The State Oiled Wildlife Care Network's rescue
center in Cordelia needs more volunteers, age 18 or older
to help with bird rehabilitation work. No previous experience
or training is needed for most volunteer positions. People
who would like to serve in positions that involve handling
the oiled birds must first complete a four-hour training class.
Volunteers work four-hour shifts, helping the professional
staff prepare bird food, clean pools and wash soiled towels.
Shifts run from 8 a.m. to noon, noon to 4 p.m., and 4 p.m.
to 8 p.m. Anyone wishing to volunteer should call the center
at (707) 207-0380, extension 109.
Of the 1254 birds captured or collected to date,
535 were alive and 719 were dead on arrival. Of the 535 live
birds, 52 are still receiving care; 313 have died, and 170
have been cleaned, rehabilitated, and returned to the wild.
They are still being found between Point Reyes and Pacific
Grove, and still the vast majority being recovered are common
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