Lab tests underway to identify mystery goo threatening birds

Wednesday, January 21, 2015
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Lab tests are underway in Sacramento to identify the mystery substance that's sickening and killing birds in the San Francisco Bay.

HAYWARD, Calif. (KGO) -- Hundreds of birds have turned up on the East Bay shoreline covered in a mystery sticky substance. More than 100 have died, and now some birds in Foster City have been found with the goo on them too.

California Department of Fish and Wildfire officials are hoping to know soon what that mysterious gooey substance is that has been contaminating and sickening hundreds of birds. Lab tests are underway in Sacramento to identify the substance.

One by one, birds soiled with a mysterious gooey substance continue to arrive at a mobile triage center in Hayward. The animals are given a syringe filled with warm water.

"They can't warm themselves in the water because when the stuff gets on their feathers it disables them from being waterproof. It's in the feathers and then the water gets to the skin," said Mark Russell with International Bird Rescue.

In Sacramento, two different labs are rushing tests to determine exactly what substance contaminated the birds. So far, 400 have been collected mostly from shorelines in Hayward, San Leandro and Alameda.

"It's a mystery and the bird care folks have never seen this kind of viscous, non-petroleum material. So every minute that goes by, the mystery thickens," said Andrew Hughan with California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

After they're triaged, the birds are transported to the International Bird Rescue Center in Fairfield where they are being pretreated with baking soda and vinegar, and then thoroughly cleaned.

Once the substance is identified, Fish & Wildlife, and local organizations like Baykeeper will try to identify the source.

"We are disappointed about dead animals, but the good news is there are 300 alive that have been saved. There were just about over 100 dead, so that's always unfortunate. The good news is they are not an endangered species so these are common to the Bay Area. It's sad but it's not catastrophic," said Andrew Hughan with the Department of Fish & Wildlife.

Officials still don't know what is coating their feathers.

"What we know is that it's not petroleum, which is good, which is the best news we could hope for. But further than that, we just don't know at this moment," said Hughan.

Since it is not clear where the substance is coming from, the rescue groups are paying for the cost of cleaning the animals.

If you'd like to make a donation to help pay for the rescue effort, click here.

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