Puffins have been found dead on a Yorkshire beach – as conservationists warned that the aftermath of the oil slick that affected 15 miles of the coast was still hitting home.
The two birds were discovered washed up on the sands near Scarborough Spa by a man walking his dog.
Oil has been coming ashore for the last fortnight on a stretch of coast between Scarborough and Filey. Experts say the source of the pollution – thought to be a passing ship – is unlikely to be found.
Environmentalists pointed to their deaths as evidence that the oil spillage had now found its way into the wildlife food chain.
It is believed the puffins died a slow death after eating fish which was contaminated with crude oil – and there will be more casualties to come.
Scarborough Sea Life and Marine Sanctuary animal care supervisor Lyndsey Crawford said: “This is just confirming our worst-case scenario.
“People think you will see dead animals immediately after a slick.
“We are probably going to be finding dead birds for the next couple of weeks.
“The oil slick was near an area where lots and lots of rafting birds were preparing to come onto the cliffs at Bempton to lay their eggs over summer.
“It is very difficult to police boats out there, unfortunately, but it is not a new thing.
“Puffins are extremely important. Populations are really low. So any loss is a massive thing and we are possibly going to see a decline in the babies being born because of this.
“Bempton is a really important nesting area for seabirds as well. It would not surprise me if you see a dip in eggs compared with last year.”
She said the puffins may not have come across the oil but instead have eaten contaminated fish.
“Once the food digests the toxins are released and it can be a long time before they are killed,” she said.
Steve Crawford, of Surfers Against Sewage, said: “This is just what we were worried about.
“I have been bringing oiled gulls in regularly and with the storms coming if they are already weakened they are really going to get hammered.”
Large pockets of oil were still clinging to the rocks where many of the sea birds gathered.
Mr Crawford said: “It is hard getting to the spot where there is not much access to clean the oil up.
“The council cleared the main beaches but there is a whole area towards Filey where there is oil on the rocks. We are finding huge globules.
“We have been trying to scrape it off the rocks with spatulas. It is like charcoal. There is nothing we can really do.”