By David Mardiste
TALLINN - A thick oil slick off the shore of northwest Estonia could kill as many as 35,000 birds, far more than previously feared, as freezing seas hamper rescue and recovery efforts, bird experts said on Monday.
Around 3,000 dead birds have been recovered so far, said Vilju Lilleleht, a senior member of the Estonian Ornithological Society. He added studies showed only about 10 percent of avian casualties from oil slicks were ever found.
"The real number of deaths could be as high as 35,000," Lilleleht said.
The spill of about 20 tonnes of oil, reported last Saturday, was initially expected to have only a limited impact but ornithologists said many birds were .......
...... suffering as oil clogged their feathers. Birds coated in oil have been seen off the southwest coast of Finland, environmentalists said.
Breeds affected include swans and the long-tailed duck, known as Clangula hyemalis, and migrating birds from the Arctic and the Russian and Finnish tundras.
Rare White-tailed eagles and Eagle Owls, which could eat the oiled birds, are also seen at risk as overnight temperatures of -20 degrees Celsius (-4 degrees Fahrenheit) complicate efforts to rescue live birds or recover dead ones.
Estonian Environmental Inspection Service spokeswoman Leile Tuul said she expected up to 10,000 birds to die as a result of the oil spill, the source of which is still being investigated. The Baltic sea is a busy route, especially for Russian oil tankers headed to European markets.