Thousands of dead birds, snared in a giant glob of sticky oil, line a beach 300 miles southwest of Valdez, victims of the spreading crude that has devastated Alaska's coast for weeks.
While enviromentalists, government and Exxon officials trade barbs over blame, the oil drifts inexorably, fouling the shoreline and leaving dead, dying or dirtied birds, fish, otters, seals and sea lions. Even Alaska's lumbering, powerful brown bears have been seen prowling on oil-caked beaches.The oil is selective: It leap-frogs large stretches of coast, then hits others with contamination ranging from a light film to ankle-deep goo.
"We landed along a wide tidal basin, about six miles of beach," said Ray Bane, superintendent of Katmai National Park. "We found oil debris in large quantities throughout the tidal zone. We saw 2,000 to 3,000 dead birds. . . . You can't really tell what they are. They're one big blob of oil."
Since March 24, when the tanker Exxon Valdez smashed into Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound and leaked 10.1 million gallons of crude through its shattered hull, reports of destroyed wildlife have multiplied.
The spill has reached Chignik, 525 miles southwest of Valdez. Residents are fearful the oil may interfere with their salmon season.