*Don’t forget the fish: Turns out that last week, up to 100,000 dead drum fish washed up along the shores of the Arkansas River near the city of Ozark. The mass fish kill was reported last Thursday by a tugboat operator, but didn’t become big news until the bizarre blackbird mystery erupted in Beebe, about 125 miles away. Msnbc.com reported that the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission was once again on the case, with spokesman Keith Stephens saying that it will take a month to determine the cause of the fish deaths. Experts suggested, however, that there appeared to be no link between the fish and bird kills, saying that the drum fish likely died of some disease.
Nonetheless, given the coincidental timing, news reports couldn’t help irresponsibly linking the two: “Massive fish kill deepens dead bird mystery,” read the headline on a January 3 NBC Nightly News video. In the U.K., Wednesday’s Mirror trumpeted: “500 blackbirds drop dead from the sky days after 100,000 fish and 5,000 birds are found dead.”
*Which brings us to the conspiracy theories: Naturally, the blogosphere was abuzz with them, with heavy Facebook traffic and online comments galore. Some possibilities: sign of God’s wrath; ran into UFOs; government weapons testing; you name it. The Atlantic Wire’s Caitlin Dickson took a more lighthearted look in her roundup of some of the “top tweets,” including this one from The New York Times’s Brian Stelter: “Regarding the bird die-offs: have we ruled out ‘viral promotion for an apocalyptic movie’ yet?’”
*Clever headline nominees: “Blackbirds dead, not singing in the night,” à la the Beatles, from the Arkansas Times. “Four and twenty blackbirds (plus) fall from the sky,” à la the nursery rhyme, from About.com’s Little Rock blog. “Signs of the Aflockalypse” from The Washington Post. “Aflockalypse” reverberated elsewhere, so it’s the unofficial winner.
*The Flocks Heard ‘Round the World: As is often the case, the Arkansas and Louisiana dead animal media flurry triggered a worldwide rash of similar reports, from Sweden to New Zealand. As Melissa Bell noted in a Washington Post blog post on Wednesday:
It seems sudden bird deaths occur more often than one would think. About 500 million to 1 billion birds are killed every year and mass deaths have been noted about 16 times in the past 20 years, the News Hour reports. Rather than a divine sign, the cause is likely human: fireworks scaring the birds, toxic chemical killing the fish or power lines tangling up the birds. There are also reports that some of the deaths could be natural: the Chesapeake Bay carnage may be due to “cold-weather stress,” NPR reports.
So, when one news report about dead birds becomes big news, a measly few dead birds anywhere in the world becomes big news. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.
*Conclusion: Actually, I’m keeping my own investigation of the dramatic saga secret, working on a screenplay, “Bye, Bye Blackbirds,” and awaiting movie offers.