NAGASAKI (Kyodo) At least 108 oil-covered seabirds had been found on the coast of Tsushima Island in Nagasaki Prefecture as of Thursday, and experts suspect the birds are victims of illegal dumping.

The Tsushima Wildlife Conservation Center, a branch of the Environment Ministry, said it is concerned about how quickly the damage is spreading. The number of oil-contaminated birds is nearly 10 times the total found there last year, researchers said.

The oil-covered birds started showing up in all parts of the coast in February, even though no oil spills have been reported this year.

The Japan Coast Guard said there have been no reports of oil slicks from fishermen either.

Yasuhiro Fujita, 43, a member of the Japan Seabird Group, studied the coast from late February to early March. He said it is possible the contamination is being caused by “repeated, small-scale illegal dumping” of oil.

Analyses of oil taken from seabirds showed it was fuel oil C, which is often used by ships. The conservation center said it is also analyzing the contamination level by examining the bodies of birds found dead.

Oil-covered seabirds have been seen around Tsushima over the past several years, but full-scale research on the situation didn’t begin until this year.

The discovered seabirds “probably comprise less than 30 percent” of the total, said veterinarian Akira Murakami, 32.

Murakami said most of the dirty birds found since last month belong to the diver family, such as the black-throated diver. Divers are easy to find because the structure of their legs makes them inclined to live on flat surfaces, such as sandy beaches.

But the alcidine family of birds, such as the rhinoceros auklet, which inhabits rocky areas, are difficult to find and could be in danger.

“When there will be no need for rescue activities, that could be when no birds are left,” Murakami warned.

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