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This from the Associated Press today:
 
Nearly three weeks after a container ship spilled toxic fuel into San Francisco Bay, birds continue to show up covered with oil on the shoreline, and wildlife biologists say more than 20,000 may have died in the disaster.
About 2,150 birds have been found dead or have died at the bird rescue center since Nov. 7, the day the Cosco Busan crashed into the Bay Bridge and spilled 58,000 gallons of heavy bunker fuel oil.
Bird experts figure that for every bird found dead or alive, about five to 10 others go unreported because they sink at sea, get eaten by predators or fly elsewhere. That would put the fatality number at up to 21,500 birds.
The oil damage to some of the species is causing special concern among bird biologists, who warn that numbers already are falling. Snowy plovers, marbled murrelets, sanderlings, Clarkís grebes and rhinoceros auklets, among others, all of which have been found covered in oil, are considered species at risk of maintaining healthy populations.
Some of these species already are in the "greatest need of immediate conservation help," said Glenn Olson, executive director of Audubon California in Sacramento.
Currents and winds continue to move the oil around the bay and coastline, pushing tar balls up on beaches already cleaned. Shorebirds and waterfowl, mainly surf scoters and Western grebes, continue to get smeared with oil. The oil can kill birds that ingest the hazardous fuel oil or cause them to die of hypothermia when oil-covered feathers canít keep them warm.
Only 215 of the 782 birds that have been washed at the International Bird Rescue Research Center in Fairfield have been released back to the wild. Most have been set free in Tomales Bay or south of Half Moon Bay, the regions with least chance of contamination.
Big surges of high tides, such as those seen last weekend, can move oil back onto places like Ocean Beach, which has been cleaned and recleaned, said Yvonne Addassi, wildlife operations branch director for California Department of Fish and Game.
The cleanup crews kept wildlife-rescue operations running over the weekend because they expected the tides to bring in more oiled birds, she said. "We picked up oiled birds last weekend, just not in the numbers that we saw early on in the spill," she said.
"You have oil in the form of tar balls and tar paddies that deposit on beaches. If weíre able to get cleanup crews out there, that oil gets removed from the environment," she said.
But there are other areas where the cleanup crews canít or donít go.
"When the tide comes in, it lifts that oil off rocks or beaches, and it refloats. The oil moves with the currents and wind, and then it gets redeposited in other places," Addassi said.
Itís hard to predict how long the fuel oil will continue to plague the bay and coast, so far hitting from Point Reyes National Seashore south to Montara State Beach in San Mateo County. Some experts have forecast 10 to 20 years.
Hardest hit so far are ducks and seabirds -- surf scoters, Western grebes, common murres, Clarkís grebes, Brandtís cormorants, greater scaups and eared grebes.
Some of the birds live in the Bay Area, but hundreds of thousands of others have come to the bay from Canada and Alaska to spend the winter, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. At this time of year, about 1.6 million birds come to stay until spring or are stopping for food and rest before they continue to Central and South America.

(E-mail Jane Kay at jkay(at)sfchronicle.com)
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