TALLINN - An unexplained oil spill in northwestern Estonia has already killed an estimated 5,000 birds, and scientists expect this number to grow over the next few days.
On Jan. 30, approximately 1,000 oil-covered birds were detected on the shoreline of Vormsi Island, and another 1,000 on Osmussaar Island, ornithologist Tiit Randla told the Baltic News Service. Randla, who is head of the Osmussaar landscape protection area, explained that it’s practically impossible to save birds whose feathers have been tainted with oil.
“When a bird’s feathers are covered in oil it stops feeding and quietly fades away,” he said. “In theory, a bird can be saved only if single feathers are oiled. We hope birds with few oil-covered feathers will lose them while moulting.”
Birds of many species ranging from mute swans to various ducks, grebes and gulls have suffered. The damage was greatest to long-tailed ducks.
Finland’s STT agency reported that oil-covered birds were also discovered in southwestern Finland.
Mikael Kilpi found a dozen birds with oiled feathers near Hanko on the southwestern coast. The birds may have encountered the oil while at sea before flying in the direction of mainland Finland, Kilpi said, as no pollution was detected near Hanko.
On Jan. 28, an oil slick was discovered on the coast of Estonia’s northern Harjumaa region and another off the coast of the western Laanemaa region. The toxins came in from the open sea, although the origin of the spill remains to be found.
Over the next few days, oil slicks were .....
..... discovered on a 15-kilometer stretch of shoreline reaching from the Dirhami Port to Kolviku Point. Spokespeople for the border authority dealing with the mess said the polluter will most likely go unidentified.
Those working in the clean-up operation had found 400 dead birds by Jan. 30.
The Estonian Fund for Nature has called for volunteers to speed up the clean-up operation and save as many birds as possible.
Dozens of oil-sodden birds were also seen at sea from a birdwatching station near Hanko, Kilpi said. Some of the oil that washed up on Estonia’s coast may have also crossed or come near to Finland’s territorial waters, he said.
Because some of the birds were thickly covered in oil, Kilpi said it was doubtful they were tainted far from Finland.
STT noted, however, that the Finnish border guard’s surveillance plane, which at the beginning of this week made regular flight over the territory, did not detect any conspicuous spills. Officials who checked the coast at Hanko on Jan. 30 did not find any oil.
Samples of oil have been taken to the environmental studies center lab, where they will be analyzed for a few days. The results are expected to provide an answer about the type of oil spilled.
Meanwhile, the Environmental Inspectorate is trying to establish the source of the spill. Based on indications that the oil came in from sea, information is being collected about ships that passed through the area in the last few days.
Estonian coastal waters are an internationally significant wintering place for large numbers of waterfowl, and extensive oil pollution could endanger a species whose numbers are declining quickly, the Ornithological Society said.