There was a very strange sight – and quite the smell too – at a canal in New York’s Long Island earlier this week.
Locals of Hamptons Bays woke up on Monday morning to thousands and thousands of dead bunker fish, also known as menhaden, floating and flickering around in Shinnecock Canal.
Photographs and videos of the fishpocalypse have already been doing the rounds on social media, with many speculating that it could be caused by industrial pollution, toxic algae, or an introduced predator.
“Strange phenomenon. Cause of man or nature?” local resident Gustavo Zuluaga Buritica posted on Facebook.
Officials have collected water samples from the canal to test for pathogens and pesticides, although there’s been no evidence of pollutants in the area so far.
Regional Department of Environmental Conservation spokesman Bill Fonda told Newsday it’s most likely the fish died from hypoxia, starved of oxygen. He speculated that the large number of fish could have become trapped in a confined area of the canal, and then rinsed the water’s oxygen levels dry.
“There were very dense schools of menhaden [bunker fish] right up against the shore… pinned into shore by predators, striped bass, bluefish, and even things like whales, believe it or not. It’s possible that they’re even chased up into the canal by some of these predatory fish,” Dr Christopher Gobler of Stony Brook University’s marine science lab told the East Hampton Star.
Meanwhile, the city is planning a clean-up operation with the help of local commercial fishermen.