Canola oil cleanup in North Vancouver waters

Environmental officials said Sunday they had cleaned up most of the vegetable oil spilled into the Burrard Inlet near North Vancouver.

At least 50 tonnes of canola oil found its way into one of Canada's biggest Pacific coast harbours Friday.

The spill occurred when a pipe ruptured during a transfer into a tanker at the Neptune Bulk Terminals (Canada) Ltd. in North Vancouver.

Canola oil doesn't pose a risk for humans, but it's very dangerous to birds.

Experts say hundreds of waterfowl in the area are in trouble. The oil is not toxic, but it does interfere with the insulating properties of feathers. A bird coated in oil can drown or die of hypothermia.

The timing of the spill is particularly bad because of the large number of seabirds seeking cover from the cold in the harbour during winter months, according to Fred Beech, Environment Canada's emergency co-ordinator for the West Coast.

The oil seeped into Stanley Park, 2,450 acres of natural parkland at Burrard Inlet, where the worst of the damage appears to have occurred.

Clean-up crews estimate that at least 100 waterfowl in the park's lost lagoon were exposed to the oil. The birds were still strong enough Saturday to elude people trying to help them.

One carcass was recovered, and a second bird was cleaned of its coating of oil. The SPCA spent the weekend trying to save waterfowl in the area.

Environment Canada said Neptune accepted responsibility for clean-up activities carrying out on-water oil recovery and is assisting the SPCA in the recovery of oiled waterfowl.

It said emergency response teams would conduct aerial surveys to determine the extent of damage. However, environment officials said they expected the oil to be broken down by the sun within two weeks.