EDMONTON - Three times as many waterfowl died last spring on a Syncrude Canada tailings pond in northern Alberta than the 500 birds originally estimated.
The carcasses of 1,606 ducks were actually collected from the toxic oily waters of the oilsands giant's Aurora pond after the first flock of birds landed April 28, 2008, Syncrude Canada chief executive Tom Katinas said Tuesday.
Katinas released the updated figure a week after an Alberta court granted the consortium three more months to enter a plea on federal and provincial wildlife charges that were laid after the environmental disaster made headlines around the world.
''I want to apologize for this terribly sad event that happened on our site,'' Katinas told a news conference.
''It is a stain on our good reputation that Syncrude has earned over its many years of good operations. The drowning of the waterfowl last April shouldn't have happened and it's unacceptable.''
Crown prosecutors in the case against Syncrude gave the company permission to release the final dead bird count.
Katinas declined to explain why Syncrude is only now acknowledging the larger number and that it should have done a better job of protecting migrating waterfowl.
He said it took time for many of the carcasses to surface on the pond as they began to decompose.
Katinas said other bodies of water in the area were still frozen last April, so the Aurora pond was one of the few places the ducks could land. A spring snowstorm also delayed the deployment of noise-making cannons that are placed around such ponds to scare away birds.
He announced that more of the cannons will be deployed and will now be monitored year-round. The company will also use high-tech scarecrows that move in the wind and will test a radar system to detect flocks of migrating birds.
Katinas said the Alberta government has been made aware of the improvements, but hasn't approved or commented on them.
A Greenpeace Canada spokesman said the group is shocked by the higher duck death toll and questions why it took Syncrude almost a year to make the information public.
Mike Hudema said instead of putting more noise-making cannons in place governments should enact tougher regulations governing tailings ponds and end the practice of allowing corporations to police themselves.