February 6, 2006

Estonia oil slick could kill up to 35,000 birds

By David Mardiste

TALLINN (Reuters) - 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.