Puzzling bird, fish kills drive some humans batty

Dead fish washing up in the Chesapeake Bay, birds falling from the sky in Arkansas, Louisiana and Kentucky, plus assorted other wildlife dropping in places like Brazil, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

What in the world is going on?

Maybe nothing more than some unusually nasty weather. But that hasn't stopped some anxious and even alarmed folk from speculating about a wildlife holocaust triggered by, you name it: pesticides ("what are they spraying?" one emailer asked), lingering poisons from the Gulf oil spill or "the end," as in of time.

The dead blackbirds and grackles really are puzzling to me, though wildlife biologists have suggested fierce night-time storms, lightning and possibly even some New Year's Eve fireworks or gunfire - or a combination of those and other factors - might've led to their demise.

That probably wouldn't explain the dead fish reported in Arkansas, but authorities there are investigating the possibility of disease - again, not an unknown phenomenon.

As for the bay fish kill, turns out it's mainly juvenile spot and some croaker, and biologists suspect the unusually sudden and severe drop in water temperatures in late December did them in. It's not unheard of - there've been other, even bigger winter fish kills in the bay in similar circumstances. And there's been no immediate indication of any pollution or other water-quality problem that might've put the fish in harm's way.

Authorities are investigating, though they caution that the bay fish may be too decomposed to really determine what killed them.

Is there anything connecting these disparate events? I kind of like my colleague Frank Roylance's suggestion, made on his weather blog, that the Internet's to blame.  Not for the wildlife deaths, but for enabling folks to rapidly connect so many disparate dots and see an alarming pattern.

As journalists, we're in the business of connecting dots, so I understand the tendency. We live for unmasking previously unnoticed, slowly developing trends and hidden, nefarious plots. But sometimes, a series of similar events is just a coincidence, not conspiracy.

We may - or may not - ultimately find out what killed these critters. I'll be waiting for the final reports. Meanwhile, I'm not ready to stock up just yet, on food, ammo or even toilet paper.

(Dead fish in Northwest Creek, MD Dept of Environment; dead birds in Pointe Coupee Parish, La.)

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