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UPDATED: Mystery Oil Grows Along Oregon / Washington Coast as More Birds, Tar Found

Published 5/24/24 at 4:25 p.m. - Updated 9:35 p.m.
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection Staff

(Astoria, Oregon) - [UPDATED 8:42 p.m.] – Whatever is going on, it's spreading southward.

LATEST FROM OREGON STATE PARKS: All beaches remain open, no closures expected. But do NOT handle tar-like substance.

Authorities in Oregon and Washington are beginning to scramble after a week of reports of oil-covered birds and tar-like patches and balls along both coastlines, stretching from the Long Beach Peninsula down through Lincoln County. What began on the Washington coast last week seems to be spreading to Lincoln City, with both injured birds and black patches found in that region. It's been seen as far south as Salishan Spit. (Photo Silver Point near Cannon Beach - ODFW)

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The source of the oil still eludes responders. Earlier this week, the US Coast Guard conducted flyovers from Long Beach through Nehalem on the north Oregon coast and did not see any oil on beaches or in the water.

The tar balls are being collected and sent to labs. Various agencies on the two coastlines are warning the public to not touch them. They are also asking for people to report any finds of tar-covered birds.

“We strongly advise the public not to handle any tar or oily product found or attempt to assist affected wildlife along the shore – this is dangerous for you and for the wildlife,” said Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW). “If you find oiled or dead wildlife, please call 1-800-22-BIRDS (1-800-222-4737). Untrained handling can also affect the integrity of samples that need to be collected.”

Photo Amy Summerfelt

Late last week, the first finds of tar were at Benson Beach and a beach at Beards Hollow in Ilwaco, Washington. Those sites are getting cleaned by professionals.

Now, the stretch of tar balls has expanded southward as of Thursday.

“The tar-like substance has been found in several places along the Oregon coast including Cannon Beach, Silver Point, Lincoln City, and Salishan Spit,” said ODFW.

So far, the incidents have not made it as far south as Port Orford, Coos Bay or Florence.


One of the few places handling these injured birds is the Wildlife Center of the North Coast near Astoria. Staff there are getting stretched thin and are asking for donations from the public. They are asking for financial help as well as donations of gloves and towels. You can see more here

“Our staff is currently caring for several birds that were recently found along the coast covered in oil,” the center said. “We are currently caring for these birds, along with now 30+ young ducklings and other rotating rehab patients.”

Wildlife Center of the North Coast

Earlier this week, the US Coast Guard counted a total of ten birds, but that number has since risen. Some of the birds simply died before they made it to any rehab facility.

“In Washington, four contaminated Common Murres were recovered by rescue personnel, as well as two dead contaminated murres,” the agency said. “One of the live murres was euthanized following further evaluation of its injuries. Four contaminated murres were also recovered alive in Oregon.”

How long the mystery spill has been out there is also unknown.

Wildlife Center of the North Coast

The incident is getting a sizable response across agencies, now including: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Washington Department of Ecology, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Coast Guard.

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Andre' GW Hagestedt is editor, owner and primary photographer / videographer of Oregon Coast Beach Connection, an online publication that sees over 1 million pageviews per month. He is also author of several books about the coast.

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