Well, in case you were worried about chemical weapons or the end of the world or even if you were just thinking, “Damn it, that’s a lot of dead fish and birds, I wonder what that’s all about,” then I have good news for you. It turns out that it’s perfectly normal for large numbers of animals to die at the same time.
Now, so you know, I am not at all concerned that the world is going to end. I’m not packing up for 2012 and I don’t think we’re trapped in the prologue to The Core.
Yes, however, I’ve been reading stories about piles of dead critters all over the place, and all I want to know is what happened. That’s the big mystery to me – not death, not mass death.
Unexplained mass death. I just do not believe that unexplained mass animal death really occurs all the time, and I can’t seem to work myself up into any kind of shame spiral about it. I think when it happens, it’s usually clear why, and this time it’s not.
And since it’s not clear why, I’m probably going to remain curious about it, and also skeptical toward the idea that I should go away and ask about something else.
If we were testing chemical weapons, for example, then I’d like to know about it, and I’d like to kindly ask my nice government to pretty please cut it out. I’m not being sentimental, either – it’s mainly because I eat fish and birds all the time, and I do not want to be a part of mass human death, whether it’s normal and natural and explained or not.
Now, if you were already thinking conspiracy theory, then there’s no AP story in the world that’s going to shut you down. If a shady government cabal is covering up a chemical weapons test which killed 5000 birds and 100,000 fish, then the normal thing to do is meet up with an AP executive with a briefcase of cash, make sure that nothing conspiracy-like goes out on the wire.
Advanced Conspiracy Execution of course, would then include the production of a nice, whitewashing story about how everything is fine. That’s really what we have right here – conspiracy or not – in the now heavily-circulated AP story FACT CHECK: Mass bird, fish deaths occur regularly.
The main thing about this story – it’s talking about much smaller animal kills, and most of them are easy to explain.
When I started scratching my head about all of these recent, massive fish and bird kills, the numbers were only part of what bothered me. Another part was the fact they were clustered together – the birds and the fish in Arkansas were within a day of each other, mass kills showed up in huge numbers elsewhere in the world within a week.
So they weren’t just mass kills, but a cluster of unusually large mass kills – and again, the most troubling part of all is that no one can tell us why.
I’m reading the article, and it starts off acknowledging the huge numbers of dead animals showing up – 2 million fish in the Chesapeake Bay, 150 tons of red tilapia in Vietnam, 40,000 crabs in Britain – and then it goes on to say, don’t worry, it happens all the time.
To illustrate, it gives me a list of considerably smaller kills, including:
– 900 some turkey vultures that seemed to drown and starve in the Florida Keys
– 4,300 ducks killed by parasites in Minnesota
– 1,500 salamanders done in by a virus in Idaho
– 2,000 bats that died of rabies in Texas
– the still mysterious death of 2,750 sea birds in California
Nothing on that list even approaches the scale of the recent kills. We’re talking 40,000 crabs, millions of fish, compared to a couple thousand animals here and there, on the See It’s Normal List.
Furthermore, in all cases but the last, they know the exact reasons the animals died. So they aren’t “mysterious” kills, either. They’re natural. They’re smaller. And they’re explained.
If the article is trying to reassure me, then it would tell me how often these kills happen on such a huge scale. In clusters. Without explanation.
Unless of course, those particular numbers turn out to be less reassuring.
Right from the article:
“On average, 163 such events are reported to the federal government each year, according to USGS records. And there have been much larger die-offs than the 3,000 blackbirds in Arkansas. Twice in the summer of 1996, more than 100,000 ducks died of botulism in Canada.”
Okay, that’s great – although according to this CNN article here, the number of blackbirds was actually between four and five thousand. You know, not a big deal, you’re just telling me there’s nothing to worry about, then you’re lowballing the numbers on my end. Makes me nervous, like you’re trying to sell me something.
And if they had to go back to 1996 to find 100,000 dead ducks (again not a mystery, it was botulism), then it would seem that’s the best they have.
In other words, they could more effectively make their point with more recent, comparable numbers, and they don’t – which leads me to believe that there aren’t any more recent, comparable numbers.
And not just comparable numbers. Comparable numbers which are unexplained.
So what we have is an article telling us that this happens all the time, and then failing to illustrate that this happens all the time. On this scale, this happens rarely, and if there was a point in time when we had a half dozen five-digit kills in the same week, you’d think they’d mention it in the Everything’s Fine Article, wouldn’t they?
Here’s the thing. I’m not saying it’s the end of the world. I just think it’s worthy of interest, scrutiny, and when it comes to getting to the bottom of it, persistence. If giant animal kills are so normal, then what the hell is wrong with wanting an explanation? Even the freaking salamanders got an explanation, and there were about one or two Hefty bags full of them.
You might think that I’m some sort of crazy conspiracy nut, but the fact is it’s raining carcasses out there, and you’re the one telling me that’s normal and fine.
After all, we did just pump a trillion gallons of oil or so into the Gulf of Mexico, which is connected to the oceans the way the knee bone’s connected to the thigh bone. Seems like that’s the sort of thing that could ripple on up the food chain and hey – I just think we ought to look into it. See if it’s, you know, not normal at all this time, since it’s so much bigger and widespread.
There are many degrees between blithely disregarding this phenomenon and ascribing it to the end of the world. I would agree that it’s not time to panic, but it doesn’t feel like it’s time to underestimate exactly how much of a toilet we’re turning the world into. From my perspective, folks who are gearing up for the zombie apocalypse are freaking me out about exactly as much as the folks who are totally positive that nothing’s going on at all.
Earlier: The Horrifying Bird And Fish Reverse Conspiracy Theory
And: Modern Freedom And Big Brother’s Lens
And speaking of lizards: Our Weird Perception Of What’s New