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Sea birds found coated in oil after toxic spill in Vancouver's English Bay

Several sea birds were found coated in oil on Vancouver beaches Thursday after a toxic bunker fuel spill spread across English Bay.

The Vancouver Aquarium said it is closely monitoring the spill to determine its impact on marine wildlife.

But for the birds already found oiled, the odds of survival are slim, said Dr. Peter Ross, director of the Ocean Pollution Research Program.

Although birds can be cleaned, Ross said evidence from past oil spills shows that most of the animals will die.

"Cleaning and rehabilitation and releasing is maybe the right thing to do, but unfortunately, it still meets with a high mortality rate,” he told Metro. “Birds don’t like to be oiled, so they’ll clean their feathers and as a result, they will ingest some oil, and that’s harmful.”

Focus Wildlife, an organization that works with government and industry to address emergency wildlife issues, is caring for the oiled birds, he said.

It’s unclear exactly how many birds were recovered, but Ross said he was told there are several in the group’s care. A request for comment from Focus Wildlife was not immediately returned Thursday.

The Stanley Park Ecology Society also spotted one Barrow’s golden eye, a type of bird, with oil on it, said executive director Patricia Thomson.

"It is an awful thing to happen,” she said. "When the tide goes out, it doesn't mean the spill just goes with it. It means the sheen can settle right down onto the shoreline.”

Thomson said the society will continue to monitor the park in the days to come.

While some of the oil is expected to evaporate, Ross said a portion will stay in the ocean and in sediment. That puts a diverse variety of sea life at risk of exposure, including harbour seals, river otters, crows, crabs and salmon, he said.

“Anything that breathes air around the ocean surface is potentially going to be exposed to some noxious gases,” he said. “Even if it’s a modest spill, there are a lot of different types of animals that can be impacted.”

Ross said the aquarium is considering taking precautionary steps to prevent marine mammals from getting close to the oil spill.

For example, if a pod of killer whales gets too close to the slick, he said his team could go out on boats to “guide them away” and into open water.

Ross said it’s disappointing that oil spills, even if they are minor, continue to happen in B.C. waters.

“Even with a modest spill, we can see harm and we can see impact,” he said.

- With files from Emily Jackson, Metro.

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