The amount of ducks that died in a toxic tailings pond last April is three times higher than originally thought, said oilsands giant Syncrude Canada.

Syncrude CEO Tom Katinas says 1,606 ducks died in the pond at the company’s Aurora North Site mine facility north of Fort McMurray. Original estimates by the company and the government pegged the dead-duck toll at 500, and Katinas said staff could not keep track of the number of birds “that fell below the water line” soon after the incident.

“Once again, I want to apologize for this terrible and sad event that happened on our site,” said Katinas after revealing the new number to reporters.

“It is a stain on the good reputation that Syncrude has earned over its many years of good operations. It’s been particularly sad and embarrassing for me personally, for employees of Syncrude, and all of its stakeholders.”

Katinas said there were also challenges by staff to track down smaller birds that fell into the pond during the original count, but later found more ducks through a “rigorous recovery process” after the event.

“There needs to be transparency in the whole industry,” said Mike Hudema, a campaigner with Greenpeace.

“It took over a year to get a whole count in terms of how many birds have died within these toxic tailings lakes. This underscores just how toxic the tarsands industry is.”

Syncrude is facing federal and provincial charges over the incident for failing to store a hazardous substance in a manner that ensured the substance did not come into contact with or contaminate animals.

The company is expected to make an appearance in court on the charges June 10, and it has yet to enter a plea.

Syncrude says it has already begun placing deterrents on unfrozen ponds year round, along with kicking off a pilot project radar system to study migration patterns to prevent ducks from landing in the pond.

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