We’re all familiar with the canary in the coal mine metaphor. Years ago, miners would take a canary to work with them, knowing that if the bird stopped singing (or keeled over dead) danger was imminent. So what does it mean when thousands of animals drop dead while in their natural habitat?
Over the past few years, scientists have been alarmed at the acceleration of massive animal die-offs that have occurred around the globe. We’re talking about hundreds of members of a species, sometimes entire local populations, dying all at once for no apparent reason. Unless you count humans–our endless development, pollution and consumption–as a reason. As you read down this list, it’s a reality that becomes hard to deny.
While North America freezes, Australia is in the midst of a heat wave of epic proportions (climate change, anyone?). As temperatures reached 135 degrees Fahrenheit last week, bats started falling out of the sky. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals confirmed that 100,000 bats fell to the ground and died on impact, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
It’s no longer news that the global bee population is dwindling at an alarming rate. Colony collapse disorder has perplexed scientists and bee keepers alike for the better part of a decade. Multiple studies have linked the rapid decline to misuse of pesticides, but recently certain regions have seen inexplicable spikes. In June 2013, 25,000 bees and other insects were found dead in an Oregon parking lot, and in September, three entire colonies–thousands of bees–were found twitching and dying on the ground in Minnesota. Use of toxic chemicals is suspected to be the cause in both cases.
Contrary to popular belief, oysters are more than just a delicious coastal appetizer. Oyster reefs are a valuable type of natural infrastructure, effectively preventing coastal erosion and helping harbor areas absorb storm surges. Establishing this type of multipurpose ecosystem is why the state of Florida spent $4 million to build 23 acres of oyster bed in the St. Lucie River. Unfortunately, it was all for nothing. The brilliant decision to pump highly toxic freshwater from a nearby lake wreaked havoc on the salty St. Lucie, killing 100 percent of the oysters, crabs, shrimp and fish that lived there.
Not even a year after the devastating BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, local officials and Big Oil publicists insisted that all was well. “Swim in the sea and eat the fish!” they confidently declared. At the same time, scientists started to noticed a massive number of dead infant and adult dolphins washing ashore along the Gulf Coast. Although BP’s toxic blunder was suspected, it was only recently confirmed to be the culprit. But that doesn’t explain what’s causing massive dolphin die-offs much farther north. In the first week of October 2013, 14 dolphins washed ashore in New Jersey. According to Listverse, total body count grew to a little over 700 in only four months. The immediate cause has been identified as morbillivirus, a version of the measles, but theories related to global warming or pollution also are being investigated as the catalyst for its resurgence.
5. West Coast Sea Life
Although we’re not hearing much about it nationally, those on America’s West Coast have begun to see strange effects of the Fukushima disaster, not the least of which is the die-off of sea life in the Pacific Ocean. Several scientists have also issued dire warnings for the Alaskan salmon industry as well.
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