Recently an estimated one million fish bobbed to the surface at King Harbor Marina in Redondo Beach, Calif. The sardines, which are not a specific fish but instead a generic term for several types of small, oily fish, were found belly-up a few days ago, sparking concern and fear.
What caused this mysterious mass death? Some speculated that the animals had been accidentally poisoned by an unknown chemical spill, but laboratory testing of the water found no toxins that would kill the fish.
This is of course not the first recent death of animals en masse. As many as 5,000 birds died in the small Arkansas town of Beebe shortly before midnight on New Year’s Eve. Ornithologists concluded that the birds likely died of heart attacks brought about by fireworks.
Scientists believe that the King Harbor fish basically drowned; they died of oxygen deprivation. Fish of course need oxygenated water to breathe (that’s why aquariums and fish tanks have aerators), and in the ocean that’s normally not a problem.
But high winds may have driven the fish into the shallow waters near the marina, where they became trapped by their sheer numbers and depleted the oxygen. According to an official at Redondo Beach’s SEA Lab, there was “almost zero” oxygen in the water samples.
In fact, King Harbor is no stranger to such events. Algae blooms in 2003 and 2005 caused large numbers of fish to suffocate in that area.
The mass deaths have been a stinky nightmare for those trying to clean up the marina, though birds and seals that prey on the sardines seem pleased. The bigger problem now is that the decaying fish may create harmful bacteria that will threaten other wildlife in the coming weeks.