Seabird deaths: Wind direction change 'could kill more'

Dr Simon Cripps from Dorset Wildlife Trust explains how the rescue continues

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Changes in wind direction could kill many more seabirds off the south coast of England which have come into contact with an oily substance, experts fear.

Since Thursday, hundreds of seabirds have died and thousands have been washed up covered in the substance.

Marine conservation officer Emma Rance said a north-westerly wind was blowing many birds out to sea which would limit the ability of rescuers to reach them.

"This will also increase the overall number of fatalities," she said.

And it is feared that winds from the south and west later could bring even more dead birds ashore between Cornwall and West Sussex.

'Refined mineral oil'

More than 250 birds, mostly guillemots but also some razorbills, are being treated at the RSPCA West Hatch centre near Taunton, Somerset.

Peter Venn, manager of the centre, said: "It is still early days and hard to say how the birds will survive in the long term.

Guide to UK seabirds

Guillemot
  • Guillemots (pictured) are the most common seabird found around the British Isles
  • During spring they gather in huge breeding colonies, known as loomeries, on coastal cliffs and rock stacks
  • The females lay their eggs directly on a ledge - but the eggs' conical shape prevent them rolling off
  • By contrast, puffins raise a single puffin chick (puffling) in an underground burrow

Source: BBC Nature

"We don't know what this substance is or what it might be doing to the birds.

"But we can say the margarine does seem to remove it and we are doing all we possibly can to give them the best chance of survival."

The society said the vast majority of the seabirds were rescued from Chesil Beach in Dorset but others have come from the Isle of Wight and Cornwall.

Scientists from the Environment Agency identified the substance as a refined mineral oil, but said it was not from an animal or vegetable-based oil.

Tony Whitehead, from the RSPB, said investigations were continuing to establish what it was and where it came from.

"It's a refined mineral oil, which is a colourless and odourless substance, and it's related to petroleum jelly," he said.

"We don't know where it came from and we need to do a lot more testing on this substance to try and track it back to its source."

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