If you have been cut off from the outside world for the last 10 days or so – still buried under a snowdrift in some remote isolated hamlet, perhaps – you may not have realised that the turn of the year marked the beginning of a remarkable flurry of bizarre news stories relating to mass animal deaths.
Here are some of them, roughly in chronological order:
30th December: Brazil – about 100 tons of dead fish (sardines, croaker and catfish) wash up along the coast of Parana. 31st December: USA – about 100,000 fish, mostly drum, are found dead along the Arkansas River. 1st January: USA: 2,000 – 5,000 red-winged blackbirds crash out of the sky over the small town of Beebe, Arkansas. 3rd January: USA – 500 assorted birds fall from the skies onto a highway in Louisiana (and similar events occur in Kentucky and Texas). About 2 million spot fish are found dead in Chesapeake Bay, Maryland. UK – about 40,000 velvet swimming (or “devil”) crabs are discovered dead on beaches in Kent. 4th January: Sweden – 50-100 jackdaws turn up dead in Falkoping, Sweden. New Zealand – hundreds of dead snapper fish litter beaches at Coromandel. 5th January: Italy – thousands of turtle doves are found dead with strangely blue-stained beaks in the town of Faenza, Italy.
Dates and numbers are approximate, and I’m sure the list is incomplete. Today is only 11th January, after all, so it’s very possible this “flap” has yet to run its course.
What caused these events? Discounting aliens, HAARP or God, explanations vary. The Arkansas blackbirds and other avian casualties might have been startled by fireworks and crashed to earth in their panic (causing the blunt-force trauma that killed them.) The fish and crabs could have been wiped out by toxins, disease or by unusually low temperatures. There is unlikely to be a one-size-fits-all explanation, and for some of these cases there may be no obvious conclusion to be had.
Which is fair enough. We know little enough about how creatures like birds and fish navigate, let alone why they sometimes appear to fail so spectacularly. There are still mysteries aplenty in nature, such as why pilot whales beach themselves, what causes ball lightning and why fish and frogs occasionally rain down from the heavens (see my blog from March last year.) And that’s a good thing; think how dull it will be once every last little conundrum has been unwrapped and dissected.
What interests me most is the human factor. Because events such as the Arkansas blackbird massacre have been happening for centuries; Charles Fort was collecting these stories when human impact on the environment was far smaller than it is now, and when man-made electromagnetic radiation (which I’ve seen mooted as a possible cause) was minimal. It appears likely to me that this recent episode of apparently linked mass deaths could in part be an artefact of modern communications. Never before have we had such a responsive global media machine as we do now – instantly and constantly reporting, repeating, collating, comparing, recalling and analysing everything that happens. A striking event occurs – and immediately flocks of similar events are brought to our attention by the machine. What would otherwise be dismissed as mere happenstance thus becomes a pattern, and a report of dead animals on a lonely beach somewhere, that would have been less noticeable had it occurred six months ago, now becomes eerily prominent.
Just like our extended minds and senses that make up the modern media, we humans as individuals are also prone to recognise patterns and reach conclusions on sometimes very little evidence indeed. People often appear to be acting out from some kind of internal script rather than attempting to get to some sort of objective truth (and I’m probably no exception.)
Take, for example, the comments (272 of them, to date) written about an article that appeared on the Huffington Post website a few days ago, about the animal deaths. Most are relatively rational, but here are a few that are somewhat less clear-headed (except for the one right at the end!):
“Perhaps the innocent are dying young..and leaving those of us guilty of destroying our mother earth here to deal with the consequences…”
“Stop telling yourself that everything is just fine and look at what is happening!!!!”
“We really have to stop distorting this planet…”
“I feel like maybe we should all be panicking.”
“…let’s wait before running out in the street with our hair on fire. It is not like we can stop it whatever it is, so panicking will not help.”
(Well said, that last person.)
A final thought. Commenting on the 40,000 dead crabs washed up on the beaches of Kent (reported here in the Daily Mail), coastal warden Tony Sykes opined that the crabs had been killed by hypothermia caused by a sudden temperature drop, but only after possibly being lured towards the shoreline by “climate change and warmer weather”.
Global warming – as the ultimate cause of most things that are thought to be going wrong in nature – is truly an idea more difficult to kill off than a beachload of devil crabs.
Rummaging around on the internet reveals more great comments, some of which might be tongue-in-cheek:
“Is the World about to End? Is the Earth warning us?”
“Somebody has developed a species-specific weapon. It targets specific DNA and kills only those living creatures which possess it. It is presently being tested, or we are being warned. The Chinese? Have they found a solution to their overpopulation, to wipe out every human DNA but their own?”
“I bet the scientists know something we don’t, and dare not say what is happening in case it causes panic.”
“It scares me. No one I’ve talked to have ever heard of these things happening except when dolphans & whales beach them selves. Somebody has to know somebody. Looking at the map, we look targeted. We live 5 hrs from Santa Rosa, CA USA.”
“Bad signs. If men are so cruel to the environment and earth. We will get what we deserve.”
“Its stupidity. Most of todays ills are caused by overpopulation, yet, idiots believe a few rich guys want to killl everyone. Floods, earthquakes, volcano’s, tornados, hurricanes and more will all increase as our population size grows. Until we balance with nature, be prepared for food shortages, drought, severe heat AND cold spells, new diseases and more. We were warned over the last 50 years to wake up and NO ONE wants to listen. Everything’s a conspiracy. Hows that view workin out for ya?”
And I see that there’s a Google map now for mass animal deaths, which captures some of them but has not been updated in recent days, and which does seem to tie in with my notion that this is partly a mass-media phenomenon. Lots of good comments here too!