Thousands of fish have died in recent days in the Gunpowder and Bird rivers in eastern Baltimore County, and officials believe a toxic algae bloom is to blame.

Maryland Department of the Environment investigators believe a toxic algae known as Karlodinium venifecum has killed about 10,000 yellow perch, largemouth bass, bluegill sunfish, pumpkinseed sunfish, carp, black crappie, gizzard shad, spottail shiner and channel catfish.

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Investigators are waiting for lab results to confirm that high levels of the algae are present. They do not believe pollution was a factor in the fish kill.

Fish kills are more common in the summer, when warmth and sunlight fuels algae blooms that, when they die and decompose, can also create "dead zones" with little or no oxygen in the water. But such kills can be caused by a variety of factors and occur any time of year, MDE officials said.

"A warming trend that lasted well into the fall and relatively low levels of precipitation and relatively high salinity levels in the Gunpowder and Bird rivers are conditions that can lead to high algae growth," spokeswoman Adrienne Diaczok said in an e-mail.

Residents should avoid touching the dead fish, but if they must dispose of the fish, should wash their hands afterward, officials said. Anyone with information on fish kills or other environmental concerns in local waterways should call 877-224-7229.

Separately, Pennsylvania officials were investigating a large fish kill in the Susquehanna River near the Brunner Island Steam Electric Station near York. Maryland officials have not received any reports of dead fish in the Susquehanna or in the Northeast River, a tidal waterway at the mouth of the Susquehanna, Diaczok said.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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