Mystery Goo is Killing Seabirds in the San Francisco Bay

Rescuers are working diligently to save birds who are being killed by a “mysterious goo” that has appeared in the San Francisco Bay, while officials remain perplexed about what the substance is and where it came from.

Since affected birds began turning up in distress on shores last Friday, the International Bird Rescue (IBR) has taken in more than 300 birds covered by the unknown substance at its San Francisco Bay center located in Fairfield, while wildlife officials estimate that at least another 200 have been found dead. IBR describes the goo as being like rubber cement, and while so far it hasn’t appeared to harm other wildlife, it’s causing big problems for the area’s birds.

The goo is coating their feathers, which causes them to lose their insulation and leaves the birds vulnerable to hypothermia. So far it has mostly affected diving birds including surf scoters, bufflehead ducks and horned grebes on the eastern shore of the bay, however more affected birds have been reported on the west side near Foster City. The goo is also beginning to harm other species, including sandpipers.

“The good news is that we have modified our wash protocol and it appears to be working on healthier birds,” Barbara Callahan, IBR’s interim executive director, said in a statement. “However, some of the birds that have recently arrived are in much poorer condition, likely because they’ve had this substance on their feathers for several days now.”

The San Francisco Chronicle highlighted a number of theories about the mysterious substance ranging from a possible spill somewhere to someone intentionally dumping it in the bay, but the U.S. Coast Guard flew over the area to look for evidence of a spill and didn’t see anything.

Officials also strongly suspected a synthetic rubber that’s used as shipping fuel additive called polyisobutylene, which was responsible for a similar incident that resulted in the deaths of more than 4,000 seabirds in the UK in 2013 after it was spilled from a cargo ship. However, Andrew Hughan, a spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, said on Wednesday that state labs ruled the substance out, along with petroleum, although he added criminal charges are being considered if someone is found responsible.

Officials will be performing necropsies and additional lab tests, but don’t expect more results until next week. Meanwhile IBR continues to take in and work to save birds who have been affected. Because no responsible party has been identified, the organization has been left to cover the costs associated with rescue efforts, which it estimates are running somewhere between $6,000 to $8,000 each day to clean and care for the victims it takes in.

How to Help

If you live in the area, volunteers are needed to help monitor shorelines and document injured birds in need of care. You can sign up to help monitor the area through San Francisco Baykeeper, which is helping IBR organize rescue groups. You can also report birds in need of help by calling IBR’s rescue center at 707-207-0380 x 110, using an online form, or by calling Wildlife Emergency Services at 831-429-2323.

For more info, visit the International Bird Rescue.

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for the article.

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Marie W.
Marie W2 years ago

Follow the big corporations...

Ruhee B.
Ruhee B2 years ago

Poor birds! Let's hope they can find out what and where this stuff is coming from quick!

Georgina Elizab McAlliste
.2 years ago

ty please keep us informed

Jennifer H.
Jennifer H2 years ago

I still think it is tanker related. I hope they find it fast before it does much more damage. Thanks for the update.

Fi T.
Past Member 2 years ago

Treasure every life

2 years ago

My goodness, this is awful!!! It has to be affecting the fish as well, just not the way it is the birds....Hope they find who & what caused this!!!Thanks.....

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Diana T.
Diana T2 years ago

Please do whatever you can to help the birds;if I could go to the SF area & help them I would-also call attention to this awful 'pollution'&Get To the Bottom of Why It's Happening!

Janis K.
Janis K2 years ago

Thanks for sharing.