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Posted at 6:00 PM ET, 01/ 6/2011

Cold Chesapeake Bay waters likely behind fish kill

By Jason Samenow

Sea surface temperature departure from average for the week of December 29, 2010 (in degrees celsius). Water temperatures in the mid-Atlantic region, more than 3 degrees C below average, have been some of the coldest globally compared to average. Source: NOAA

Weather has mostly been ruled out as the cause of the massive bird kill in central Arkansas (now suspected to be fireworks), but chances are good it was behind the death of more than 2 million fish in the Chesapeake Bay this past week.

The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) is investigating the incident and, in a press release yesterday, implicates cold water (which has arisen from colder than average weather):

Cold water stress exacerbated by a large population of the affected species (juvenile spot fish) appears to be the cause of the kill. . . .
Spot may have difficulty surviving in colder temperatures, and the species' susceptibility to winter kills is well-documented. A rapid drop in water temperatures apparently caused cold water stress. Surface water temperatures in the bay have reached about 0.5 degrees Celsius according to Md. Department of Natural Resources Bay Program monitoring data, which is the coldest December recording in 25 years of monitoring.

Imagery obtained from NOAA (shown above) confirm water temperatures have been more than three degrees celsius (about five degrees F) below average in the vicinity of the Bay and the mid-Atlantic coast. In fact, Jesse Farrell at AccuWeather has an excellent post which demonstrates just how exceptionally cold the air and water temperatures around the Bay have been...

Additional coverage: The Baltimore Sun

By Jason Samenow  | January 6, 2011; 6:00 PM ET
Categories:  Environment, Latest  
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That's Mother Nature for ya!

Posted by: BobMiller2 | January 6, 2011 7:00 PM | Report abuse

This never happen before due to colder weather.

Posted by: FutureJumps | January 6, 2011 7:07 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for the Jesse Farrell link - I like it when the facts speak for themselves. :)

Posted by: MKoehl | January 6, 2011 7:11 PM | Report abuse

anyone else hear that the dead birds are due to a chemical leak from a government shipment; hard for me to call it conspiracy when the other option is fireworks. just sounds like bs

Posted by: vtjudyz | January 6, 2011 8:15 PM | Report abuse

can't you just see mulder and scully going to arkansas to investigate the mysterious deaths of red wing blackbirds... and fish kills in the chesapeake bay. the government cover-up story is actually a cover-up. it's an x-file...

Posted by: walter-in-fallschurch | January 6, 2011 9:01 PM | Report abuse

@FutureJumps - it has happened due to cold weather at least three other times in the past. Too lazy to find the link for you, but this year isn't the only time it's happened.

Posted by: debiguity | January 6, 2011 9:07 PM | Report abuse

Has this ever happened before? I've never heard of this with any other fireworks in the past. Didn't one article mention electrical charge in the air? I'm going to go with an invisible spaceship, saw it in a movie.

Posted by: motherrunner | January 6, 2011 9:08 PM | Report abuse

OK, I just realized that I haven't seen ANY birds at my feeder for the last 2 weeks. There was actually a noisy flock of blackbirds up in the trees a few days ago - never seen so many at once....they didn't fall dead, just flew away..but the squirrels have the feeder all to themselves. Anyone else noticing a lack of birds? There seemed to have been plenty around before new year.

Posted by: dhb2 | January 6, 2011 9:44 PM | Report abuse

I lost half of my goldfish (about 15). Never happened before. I could see them below the ice in the pond. I removed half the ice and stuck a floating heater in the water. The remaining fish gravitated to the heater and have been hanging there ever since. Usually they lay low in the cold.

Posted by: johng1 | January 6, 2011 9:49 PM | Report abuse

I remember reading in one of my fish books when I was a kid (this would have been early seventies; the book was from the fifties) that there was once a big fish kill affecting Spot in the New York area many years ago. Changing temps in the gulf stream killed so many tilefish many years ago that it was thought the species was wiped out.

Posted by: p-man | January 6, 2011 9:57 PM | Report abuse

The models still aren't in agreement:

For example, check out this one - - it gives us about 5 - 8 inches, with 7 - 10 S & E of DC:

But then this one gives us just about nothing:

Frankly, I don't know why some people say they're "throwing in the towel" with this one. We all know things can change drastically between now and then.

Personally, I hope the 5 - 10 inch event plays out. Hopefully by tomorrow the models will come into agreement. Who knows, maybe it'll be another "wait and see" event.

I do, however, have a feeling that the storm passing south of us scenario will play out since that is the trend this winter.

Posted by: BobMiller2 | January 6, 2011 9:58 PM | Report abuse

Global warming strikes again!

Posted by: getjiggly2 | January 6, 2011 10:09 PM | Report abuse

Guess your disregarding the record heat his summer.
Much larger fish kills have occured in the summer, due 2 extreme heat, which causes decreased oxygen levels in the H2O.

Posted by: VaTechBob | January 6, 2011 11:14 PM | Report abuse

It seems this dead bird/fish/crab story just won't die. It's been 6 days and the web trending sites are showing some interesting growth patterns on this subject. As an artist, here is my take on it, without words.

Posted by: rgphil | January 6, 2011 11:29 PM | Report abuse

I started noticing a lack of birds singing on the morning within the last year, which had me very worried. Now this.

Posted by: markf40 | January 7, 2011 12:26 AM | Report abuse

I started noticing a lack of birds singing in the morning within the last year or so, which had me worried about habitat reduction, etc. There used to be a loud chorus of birds every morning--now it's nearly silent. And now this.

Posted by: markf40 | January 7, 2011 12:28 AM | Report abuse

You're right Bob, I shouldn't be throwing in the towel. But it's just complete defensive pessimism. Great coping mechanism, helps not get your hopes up too high. I'm hoping for the 5-10 inch scenario as well my friend. As of now we're looking a lot better however. Only in the 3-5 inch range but hey, that's better than nothing.

Posted by: bbirnbau | January 7, 2011 1:24 AM | Report abuse

I don't think the bird populations are dwindling all that much. Black birds can travel in flocks of 1,000,000 in the winter and they are plentiful on the Eastern shore. I think the birds are changing their migrating patterns to follow climate change.

I'm looking forward to some great birdwatching at Blackwater NWR tomorrow. I hear the snow geese, blackbirds, and bald eagles are plentiful out there. If I get really lucky I'll see a Delmarva Fox Squirrel.

Posted by: ResQgal | January 7, 2011 7:37 AM | Report abuse

On a hunch I just looked up Fox Squirrel. It turns out I had one at my feeder once last winter after one of our big snows. It certainly stood out from all the usual squirrels.

Posted by: eric654 | January 7, 2011 8:02 AM | Report abuse

They came first for the Bees,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Bee.

Then they came for the fish,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a fish.

Then they came for the Birds,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a BIrd.

Then they came for me
and by that time no one was left to speak up.

Posted by: dman4 | January 7, 2011 12:05 PM | Report abuse

I'll go with the alternative cause ...

Posted by: kinkysr | January 7, 2011 12:39 PM | Report abuse

Seems rather unusual to me that cold water is a fish killer, but it may depend on the species.

Generally warm water is more dangerous because oxygen and other gases dissolve more readily in colder water. Generally the major killer of fish is hypoxia, often due to reduced oxygen content of warmer water. The major reason why trout prefer colder streams is because more oxygen dissolves in cold water.

As for bird kills we're having no problem in my neighborhood. Large flocks of crows are gathering in trees, often at sunset; they are very noisy and splatter anything underneath them with a messy white reminder of their presence. I can often tell which parked cars have not been moved by the amount of crow residue with which they are peppered. As one joke of hard economic times states...the difference between a pigeon and a Wall Street financier is that the pigeon can still leave a deposit on a BMW or a Cadillac!

Posted by: Bombo47jea | January 7, 2011 1:37 PM | Report abuse

Imagine how it must of felt for the citizens who were told to not worry when people show up in their chemical safety suits and respirators....I my self am qualified to do the same job as those folks....The citizens have a reason to question if those people protecting themselves picking up dead birds to put in a bucket, should i too be worried...

Posted by: kimroman50 | January 8, 2011 3:30 AM | Report abuse

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