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San Francisco Oil Spill a Mystery

September 30, 1998

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ A 2,300-gallon oil spill that threatens to destroy one of the largest breeding sites for marine life outside Alaska has already killed at least nine birds.

About 200 gallons of the oil slick had been sucked up Tuesday at the site 10 miles off San Francisco, said Dana Michaels, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Fish and Game.

The Coast Guard was expected to resume the cleanup effort this morning to protect The Farallon Islands, a nearby collection of barren rocks that are home to thousands of birds and sea lions.

Investigators were comparing samples of the thick, heavy oil sent to a federal pollution lab with samples from ships that had recently traveled through the same waters.

The spill, first reported Monday night, occurred at the end of the breeding season, when hundreds of thousands of birds gather in large flocks to teach newborns how to feed themselves.

By Tuesday the slick had broken up into baseball-sized tar balls and patches as large as 8 feet clustered over a mile, Michaels said. Coming off that was a sheen about 10 miles long.

Coast Guard and other environmental officials Tuesday night were watching San Mateo County, just south of the city, to see whether the slick would reach shore, Michaels said.

No one has taken responsibility for the spill, which was first reported by a vessel that moved through the area Monday. Low visibility hampered helicopters trying to get an overview of the situation.

Gov. Pete Wilson signed legislation Tuesday prohibiting large transport ships from entering state waters unless the owner or operator has an approved oil spill contingency plan.

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