Mysterious Animal Deaths of 2011

On New Year’s Eve, thousands of blackbirds plummeted to their death in a small town in Arkansas. Since then, several mysterious mass death of birds, fish, and crabs have been recorded worldwide. This string of animal die offs is being called Aflockalypse Now.

Dead devil crabs on the coast of Kent, England. Photo copyright Tony Sykes

Here are a few of the mysterious mass die offs of animals that have occurred in that past two weeks:


—40,000 Velvet swimming crabs, known as “devil crabs,” washed up along the Kent coast near Thanet, England.

—Two million small fish died in Chesapeake Bay, Maryland.

—Hundreds of snapper fish were found dead in Coromandel, New Zealand.

—100,000 dead or dying drum fish washed up along the Arkansas River.

—100 tons of fish washed up along the coast of Parangua, Brazil.

—Fish were also discovered rotting and floating in Port Orange, Florida.


—3,000 blackbirds fell on roofs and roads in the small town of Beebe, Arkansas.

—450 red-winged blackbirds, brown-headed cowbirds, grackles and starlings were found dead on a highway in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

—Scores of American Coots were found dead on Texas highways.

—50 dead  jackdaws were found on a street in Falkoping, Sweden.

—1,000 turtle doves fell dead in Italy.

Why Did These Animals Die?

According to wildlife biologists, animal die offs are pretty common, but they are usually not reported or they occur under the radar. In fact, on average over 160 of these types of die offs occur each year in the United States alone. But because of the media focus on the macabre New Year’s Eve blackbird deaths in Arkansas, there was widespread awareness and reporting of other animal deaths around the world.

Here are a few of the reasons that might account for the animals’ deaths:

Weather: Cold and wet weather, as in Arkansas on New Year’s Eve, is often associated with mass bird deaths. Cold snaps may have also been responsible for most of the fish deaths, as well as the mass death of the devil crabs.

Parasites, pollution, or disease may be responsible. The animals are being tested, but results are not expected for several weeks.

Some have blamed the birds’ deaths on fireworks. This didn’t ring true to me—why don’t we see scores of birds dying after the Fourth of July? But perhaps the fireworks combined with unusually cold or wet weather caused the birds to become disoriented.

Migration and magnetism, My first thought when I heard about the animals’ deaths was that it might have something to do with magnetism. Some scientists believe that  movement of Magnetic North Pole, which is shifting an average of around 25 miles a year, may have caused some of the animal die offs. Birds and fish rely on it to migrate to breeding grounds and warmer climates. But the shifting pole could be confusing the animals — they may not migrate in time to avoid cold weather.

Renowned Harvard biologist E.O Wilson in a Christian Scientist Monitor article noted that that mass die offs — usually of animals with large populations — are getting all the attention while a larger but slower mass extinction of thousands of species* because of human activity is ignored.

*Including frog species!

Note: Most of the information is this post is from an  article in The Mail Online (UK Daily Mail).