The End of Days!

Seriously, not the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. Run for your lives! The Rapture is here! And you were not chosen!

Seriously though, things are dying all over the place.  It first started with birds and fish in Arkansas.  Given the phenomenon, and the location within the Bible belt, this led to many people questioning whether this is the beginning of the endSeriously. (And, it even sparks top ten lists as to the causes of the bird deaths, including Jim Belushi!)  Now, I am not going to try to follow the exact progression, because in the past few days, mysterious animal deaths have occurred all over the world, impacting a variety of taxa – obviously birds and fish, but also bats, crabs, maybe even clams and starfish – all within a very short temporal scale.  Clearly, this is the act of God, right? News agencies have gone from calling this an Armageddon, to the Aflockalypse, and/or Animalapocalypse.  Its occurred in Europe, South America, New Zealand, and various parts of the US, including Arkansas, the Chesapeake, Louisiana, Arizona, South Carolina, and probably some other places I am forgetting.

So what gives?  I wish I knew.  I don’t have all the relevant information in front of me.  But it seems more and more, these deaths are being attributed to extreme weather and/or cold snaps.  While mass mortality events aren’t uncommon, particularly in aquatic species, I think the reason that these have garnered such international attention likely has to do more with the variety of things affected within just a few day span.  However, I would hesitate to drink the Kool-Aid just yet, as I don’t think this is the sign of the second coming.  But the internet and news outlets have been buzzing about these events.  From the British Daily Mail, here is a list of some of the events, although, a quick Google search will show that even this long list is incomplete (for another detailed list, see here):

The mass deaths include:

  • 450 red-winged blackbirds, brown-headed cowbirds, grackles and starlings found littering a highway in Baton Rouge, Louisiana
  • 3,000 blackbirds on roofs and roads in the small town of Beebe, Arkansas
  • Thousands of ‘devil crabs’ washed up along the Kent coast near Thanet
  • Thousands of drum fish washed along a 20-mile stretch of the Arkansas River
  • Tens of thousands of small fish in Chesapeake Bay, Maryland
  • Thousands of dead fish found floating in warm Florida creek
  • Hundreds of snapper fish found dead in New Zealand
  • Scores of American Coots found dead on Texas highway bridge

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1344345/Animal-death-mystery-Jackdaws-Sweden-fish-Brazil-New-Zealand-crabs-England.html#ixzz1AEk29J4u

Interesting, because its hard to pick out a pattern, likely because there is no pattern.  Media outlets want to link these events together.  Many of the bird deaths are being attributed to disorientation from fireworks, severe weather, and/or parasitic infections.  The fish and crabs deaths are being attributed to cold weather.  These are both common phenomena that don’t typically make the international news.  However, don’t mention that it is  cold in the winter time around these parts (and by these parts I mean the US).  The pundits will have a field day with it – how  can there be global warming and mass mortality events because its too cold? I don’t want to get into the semantics about the difference between long term patterns in climate, and weather which is whats happening right now, or go into how its actually called global CLIMATE CHANGE, and can actually lead to more severe cold winters.  That’s for another time, or another blog, or some combination of the two.  Regardless, it is interesting that we have had these deaths making such headline news.

Speaking strictly from a marine scientist standpoint and only on the aquatic occurrences, the cold snaps make perfect sense.  The local weather can easily influence a body of water, particularly the shallow coastal or fresh waters that many of these mortality events have occurred.  Very often I observe how periods of just a few days of very warm or very cold temperatures can easily influence a water body’s temperature, and I’ve personally observed ranges on the orders of degrees over just a day.  So it is possible that water temperature can change so rapidly in the natural environment to have an adverse affect and not let fish get away.  It is probable (in fact, the Chesapeake article even mentions prior mortality events of a much greater magnitude).  The other thing I want to keep in mind is, at least for the US and Europe, the sites of many of these fish-kills experienced extremely severe (and at least for the US, atypical) weather preceding the mortality.  This forms a perfectly logical explanation for these deaths – already well below average winter temperatures coupled with a severe storm event that dumped lots of snow (and therefore, fresh water) into coastal areas – and, therefore, an explanation that is not born out of the heavens.  So I am buying into the cold water explanation for fish, crab, and other aquatic animal death.  I don’t know about the birds, but the explanations are similar at all the locations of the mortality events, and bird experts would no much better than I, so I am buying those as well.  But, I am certainly interested in hearing your thoughts.

Obviously, I wish I had more pertinent scientific information to present right now.  But as this is occurring at present, the only information I have available to me (read: am willing to look up at this moment in time) is the plethora of web articles.  I’d be interested to see some more local explanations by experts, but I HARDLY THINK WE SHOULD BE MARKING OUR CALENDARS FOR THE END OF DAYS.

As a side note – for an interesting read on other bizarre animal death news from as early as the late 1800s, check out this article.

5 thoughts on “The End of Days!

  1. Calm down. It’s just a hype outbreak. Word of the Beebe bird and fish deaths got transmitted into the global echo chamber that is our modern news system, and now absolutely every animal death involving more than two specimens is being shouted into the same hole.

    These types of deaths are a perfectly natural phenomenon, and most of the time they occur without anyone besides wildlife managers noticing. But now that it’s hip to report on them, every news outlet on the planet is doing so. The natural human tendency to assume that all correlations are significant then leads to speculation about what this “new trend” means. There’s zero hard evidence that there’s any kind of trend, though.

    Ornithologist Kees Moeliker has a good description of this phenomenon on his blog (http://moeliker.wordpress.com/2011/01/05/dead-birds-dont-fly/).

    Take your news with two large grains of salt and call me in the morning.

  2. Obviously you missed the point of my post… I was mocking the fact that news media outlets were over-reacting… I said there are perfectly natural and normal explanations for all of these things, however, I can only speak of the marine species. We frequently have fish kills and scallops washing up on shore here in New York, and it doesn’t make national news. I agree with you. I think its silly, hence the (I thought) sarcastic tone of my blog post.

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