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What's killing the birds and fish?

Published January 08. 2011 09:00AM

Happy 2011 everyone. New faces in government, a new year and only three or four days in a worldwide mystery is occurring.

Thousands of animals have died in the first few days of 2011 all over the planet. In scenes reminiscent from last season's ABC episode, "Flash Forward" anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 blackbirds and starlings fell from the sky dead or dying over Beebe, Arkansas a half hour before midnight on New Year's Eve. Initial reports said there were only 1,000 dead blackbirds but as New Year's Day dawned those numbers escalated into the thousands.

One event would be unusual, but then within a few days, five hundred more birds fell from the sky over Louisiana. If that were the only event one might blame some local cause considering the states are relatively close to each other and the birds were blackbirds, grackles and starlings in both incidents. Unfortunately, this was only the first mass animal death to occur around the globe and it has been followed by several more instances of dead birds and fish. And on Wednesday in western Kentucky, several hundred more dead robins, grackles, blackbirds and starlings were found littering yards and fields.

Within a day or two of the blackbirds, estimates of up to 100,000 drum fish have been reported 100 miles away on the shores of the Arkansas River. These weren't the only fish to die. There are an estimated two million dead fish on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay and thousands of dead fish in Spruce Creek in Florida.

Before we start to believe this is a national crisis, pause and consider this. Within the same period of time, thousands of dead doves were found littering trees in Italy and on Wednesday one hundred dead birds were discovered in Switzerland as well as 100 dead jackdaws in Sweden. Dead fish have been found throughout the world as well with the most massive deaths being in Brazil where 100 tons of sardines washed up on shore. Yes, that is 200,000 pounds of dead catfish, sardines and croaker. Hundreds of snapper fish are dead on a beach in New Zealand and finally 40,000 dead crabs have been discovered on British shores.

Of course, scientists are quick to provide explanations for these deaths. In Arkansas, they are blaming the birds' deaths on New Year's Eve fireworks and revelry. The other deaths are being blamed for abnormally cold oceans catching fish by surprise. Other bird deaths are being blamed on lightning, hail or extremely cold air traumatizing birds suddenly and disorienting them. In one of the cases, the cause of death was blamed on birds flying into power lines.

It is not unusual for a flock of birds to commit mass suicide, be hit by lightning or have some other massive cause of death, but the scale of these deaths is what is mindboggling to me. Assuming a dead catfish weighs about 4 pounds on average, the Brazilian deaths number 50,000 fish. Combined within the first seven days of this year, over 2,205,000 animals have died en masse. This is a conservative number and may have increased by this morning. On any level, I find that number quite disturbing and I think the explanations are inadequate.

To reiterate, scientists have blamed these incidents on cold waters, lightning, hail, stress from fireworks and general stress. Maybe one or two of these incidents have an easy explanation, but all of them? Perhaps a worldwide cold snap has killed many of these fish, but that contradicts the theory that the earth is warming, doesn't it? Maybe fireworks startled the birds in Arkansas to death and they flew into the ground and each other, but these birds were dying BEFORE midnight on New Year's Eve not afterward. Most celebrations begin at midnight. Did they begin at 11:30 in Beebe for some reason? And how come there aren't massive bird deaths every fourth of July when conservatively tens of thousands of fireworks are exploded without massive bird deaths.

One far out explanation for the bird deaths in Arkansas could be from the tornado outbreak earlier in the day. Perhaps the updrafts sucked up these black birds into the sky and they were held aloft in the jet stream until the winds changed or reduced after dark and the birds became too heavy and fell to the ground. It could be an explanation but the birds would have probably been frozen as that would have been over 10 to 18 hours later. There are cases though of animals being sucked into a tornado and released over hundreds of miles away. One famous case involved frogs raining down on 1873, 1901, 1981 and most recently in 1995.

Any and all of these explanations could be considered acceptable I suppose, but one concern I have is could many of these animals have committed suicide which is also known to happen. Not on purpose but due to panic caused by stress they encounter that we do not notice or feel. It is well-known that animals can sense earthquakes before they occur for example. Could these animals sense something shifting in the world which has caused their strange demises? Or is something more sinister occurring caused by terrorists or some other unknown group?

If any of these are the underlying causes, we may be close to finding out what is really happening. Unfortunately if this is the case, we may be too late. Time will tell.

Til next time…

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