Bay Nature magazineSpring 2002


Oil-Plagued Sea Birds

April 1, 2002

The mystery source of oil that has plagued seabirds outside the Golden Gate for years was finally identified in February: the SS Jacob Luckenbach, which sank near the Farallon Islands in 1953. Investigators analyzed the chemical makeup of oil samples and found that beach tar balls and oil associated with the wreck matched the oil coating the seabirds. Officials are currently trying to devise a way to prevent further oil re-leases from the ship. Thousands of birds, mainly common murres, have died from oil leaking from the sunken freighter in recent years. This winter, crews have gathered more than 1,600 oil-covered birds—likely only 10 to 15 percent of the total number of birds affected—and brought them to the International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC) in Cordelia. Founded in 1971, IBRRC cares for injured and orphaned waterfowl and aquatic birds 365 days a year. IBRRC staff report that of the 1,600 birds retrieved, 900 died before arriving at their facility, another 400 didn’t make it through treatment, 200 were successfully rehabilitated and released, and 14 are still under care. To perform such extensive treatment, IBRRC relies on hundreds of volunteers. Additional volunteers are needed for the IBRRC hospital and office, as well as for the Wings on Wheels program, which transports birds to the Center from other areas. Call (707) 207-0380, ext. 202, or visit

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