Responding to Bay Birds Coated with Toxic Substance

Jan 29, 2015

Last week Baykeeper helped coordinate a search and rescue effort for hundreds of birds injured or killed by an as-yet unidentified sticky substance spilled or dumped into San Francisco Bay. Baykeeper Executive Director Deb Self was on the East Bay shoreline for two days, locating injured birds. We also recruited volunteers, collaborating with Wildlife Emergency Services, who collected injured birds, and International Bird Rescue’s center in Fairfield, where volunteers washed and fed surviving birds.

More than 500 seabirds and shorebirds have been contaminated, and at least 200 of those have died. The substance has not yet been identified, and it appears to have dissipated in recent days, as fewer birds are becoming contaminated. Read recent coverage from the San Francisco Chronicle on the release of rescued birds.

For the latest information on volunteering to help with bird rescue efforts, please visit Wildlife Emergency Services at

The search and rescue response by Baykeeper and other nonprofit organizations was necessary because few government resources were available. “We’ve identified a real gap here. When the Bay is contaminated with a toxic substance other than oil, the government agencies that are ready to respond to an oil spill can’t respond, due to lack of funding,” said Deb Self. “This incident has taught us how to coordinate a community-based response when the government’s hands are tied.”

Once the need for immediate action has passed, Baykeeper will initiate planning for a community-based response by nonprofit organizations in future similar pollution incidents in the Bay. We will also advocate for funding for government agencies to respond when the Bay is polluted and wildlife harmed by toxic substances other than oil. As soon as the substance coating the birds has been identified, Baykeeper will investigate and try to determine the source of the contamination.

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