On Dec. 30, 2010, approximately 100,000 dead fish, most of them bottom-feeding Drum, were discovered dead in the Arkansas River near the town of Ozark. Officials state that this was most likely caused by some disease endemic to this species. Samples have been sent for testing, but results will not be returned for about a month. In the meantime, the river remains open for fishing. The state has elected to do nothing about cleaning away the dead fish, opting instead to let nature take its course.
The next day, on Dec. 31, shortly before the official turn of the year, about 5,000 dead blackbirds rained upon the small town of Beebe, AR. Necropsies were more or less immediately performed, and the results from these are in. State ornithologist Karen Rowe says that the birds were killed by blunt force trauma, although she cannot rule out that such blunt force trauma could have occurred when the birds hit the ground. According to msnbc, because the birds’ stomachs were empty, they are ruling out poisoning as a possible cause. The state is performing chemical tests on a small sampling of these red-winged blackbirds, and again, test results are not expected to be available for about a month.
It should be noted that state scientists in both areas have stated that such tests are usually inconclusive anyway.
Were all of these thousands of deaths attributable somehow to the state of our environment?
In the case of the fish, it seems likely. NPR reports that the official word is that “it’s some kind of bacterial or viral infection,” according to the state fisheries chief. But until test results come back, no one can say this for sure. Drum are bottom feeders. Along with silt and sediment, there is a lot of pollution at the bottom of any river, and particularly the Arkansas River, where these fish were found. That area of the river is fed by huge papermills, and the Arkansas Nuclear One Reactor is on Lake Dardanelle, which connects to the Arkansas.
There is also a huge amount of natural gas drilling in the area. Companies are using a controversial technique, known as fracking, in conjunction with this drilling. Opponents of this practice argue that it can release inordinate amounts of pollutants, including PAHs. Some are concerned that this can release large amounts of methane from the earth as well, and there is speculation that this methane is a possible cause of the fish deaths.
What about the dead birds? It has been argued that the birds could possibly have eaten the fish, although the birds were found dead over 100 miles away. Because the birds’ stomachs were empty when they died, this seems unlikely. All indications from official channels are that these birds died from injuries sustained during some unknown trauma.
However, on Jan. 4, 2011, a new but similar story is breaking in Labarre, LA. In this instance, according to ABC station WBRZ, 500 of the same red-winged blackbirds were found dead as well. This seems an unlikely coincidence, and investigations are still underway to determine the cause of death in this separate incident.
It is too early to speculate on the connection between the mysterious bird deaths in these two states. But the curious timing indicates that there could be some connection. If there is, then it seems likely that the bird deaths as well could be contributed to environmental causes.
One thing is for certain, and that is that Our Earth and her creatures (including us) are in danger from pollution we have created. Until we humans start dropping dead in similar numbers, there is hope that we can enact a positive change and somehow remedy our past mistakes. We should all let these disturbing fish and bird deaths be the catalyst to usher in a new era of responsible stewardship of our precious planet. Real progress can be made on the issues of pollution and our environment, and 2011 is the time to work to remedy and reduce our destructive impact on Earth.