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A scientist from Plymouth University has discovered just what is threatening thousands of seabirds off our coast.
The sticky substance is PIB - polyisobutene, which has a chemical mixture ranging from oils to solids and is used as an oil additive.
Professor Steve Rowland, who led the study following the discovery of hundreds of ill seabirds including guillemots along a 200-mile stretch of the south coast last week, said the substance was not believed to be toxic.
He said: ``It (PIB) is used as an additive to lubricants.
``It is not toxic according to manufacturers, but it is very sticky.
``When it is caught up in the birds' feathers, it just glues them together. That was one of the things that made it so difficult to establish what it was.''
Prof Rowland said the investigation was complicated by erroneous speculation last Friday that the substance was crude oil, as well as a lack of previous evidence of similar spills. He said the last known pollution of its kind was near Liverpool in 1994.
``This spill (in the south of England) was quite unusual,'' he added.
It's still not know where the pollution originated from.
Three hundred birds have been rescued alive from our beaches and are being treated by the RSPCA.
First their feathers have to be treated with margarine and soapy water to get the substance off...then they need to be nursed back to health.
But they can't be returned to the wild until it is certain the pollution threat has passed. And the RSPB fears that the rescued birds make up only about a tenth of those affected. They will certainly die at sea.