Feb 3 2013
A change in wind direction could have killed thousands more birds after scores were found washed ashore along England's south coast and covered in an oily substance.
Experts believe many birds could have been blown out to sea with winds coming from the north in an off-shore direction on Saturday, leading to yet more fatalities as they become cold and exhausted.
But winds coming from the south and west could bring even more dead birds ashore.
Hundreds of seabirds have died and thousands more have been washed up between West Sussex to Cornwall after being covered in the mystery sticky substance.
Emma Rance, marine conservation officer for the Dorset Wildlife Trust, said that a change in the wind had limited the numbers of birds being washed ashore. "The north-west offshore wind is now blowing many seabirds out to sea which will limit the rescuers' ability to recover the affected victims," she said. "This will also increase the overall number of fatalities."
But that wind will change direction, moving to come from the south, and so could bring ashore the bodies of birds that have died from the cold and exhaustion.
In recent days wildlife experts and volunteers have raced to the shoreline to save as many birds as possible.
More than 250 birds, mostly guillemots and about 17 razorbills, are now 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. 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 we can of survival."
Scientists from the Environment Agency identified the mystery substance as a refined mineral oil, but not from an animal or vegetable-based oil and ruled out palm oil. One expert said the oil could have been discharged into the sea accidentally or deliberately from a ship.