Search for California oil spiller

Nov 16, 1998 01:00 AM

Oct. 2, 1998 Investigators used satellite photographs and chemical analysis to try to trace the tanker that apparently spilled 2,500 gallons of crude oil, threatening thousands of seabirds.
The spilled oil, about 60 barrels' worth, formed big tar balls and a sheen about 10 miles long. It was spotted about 10 miles from San Francisco.
Oil's unique chemical characteristics give it "fingerprints" that can be traced to specific regions, a method that has found the culprits of previous spills, said Coast Guard Lt. Richard Teubner.
"Oil from Texas, Indonesia or California all differ," he said.
Investigators also turned to a state-owned satellite to check photographs of shipping traffic in recent days.
Preliminary tests showed the pollution is crude oil, the kind hauled by tankers, Teubner said. But he said there is still a chance it may have seeped naturally from the ocean bottom, and tests did not rule out the possibility of bunker oil, which is used as fuel.
So far, 35 birds have died, and 40 covered in oil were taken to a wildlife centre to recover. Crews have picked up about 1,500 bags of tar balls and other oily debris from beaches south of Half Moon Bay.
This time of year, birds float on the water in huge "rafts," teaching new-borns how to feed themselves. Coast Guard crews flying over the area reported seeing a raft that had as many as 40,000 birds between the oil and shore.
"The bird mortality is always very high in these situations," said Dana Michaels, spokeswoman for the state Department of Fish and Game. "Even when we are fortunate to find them alive, they are often scared to death when we are cleaning them."
The spill was found about 15 miles from the Farallon Islands, spires of rock that are a national marine sanctuary and one of the most productive seabird rookeries, or breeding grounds, in the eastern Pacific.
Winds and currents appeared to be driving the oil slick south toward the San Mateo County coast, where tens of thousands of seabirds, common murres and endangered marbled murrelets could be in harm's way.

Source: not available
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