Published on
The Toronto Star

Crabs, Birds, Fish: No End to Mysterious Animal Deaths

Jenni Dunning

One of thousands of blackbirds that fell out of the sky on New Year's Eve lies on the ground in Beebe, Arkansas January 1, 2011 in this handout photograph. (REUTERS/Arkansas Game and Fish Commission/Handout)

First, it was birds falling from the sky, then thousands of dead fish washing up on shore.

Now, more than 40,000 Velvet swimming crabs have wound up dead on England beaches. The possible reason? Hypothermia.

The Thanet shoreline is littered with the crabs, along with dead starfish, lobsters, sponges and anemones.

The crabs benefit from warm seas, but
when winter hits and snow covers the beaches, they just can't handle
the freezing temperatures, Tony Child, Thanet Coast Project manager, told the Star.

"It is a horrendous crash in the
population," he said, adding similar crab deaths happened in the same
place two years and five years ago.

"During the winter . . . they come closer to the shore . . . foraging where the seaweed is," he said.

"There are more starfish this year
that have been casualties. Lobsters have been washed in a bit frozen.
Seagulls are doing quite well at the moment."

The creatures started washing up when snow blasted Europe shortly before Christmas, he said.

Some local experts are researching the dead crabs, but Child said nothing can be done to prevent the massive number of deaths.

"It's just part of the circle of life," he said.

Meanwhile, about 50 jackdaw birds were found dead Wednesday on a street in Stockholm, Sweden.

A veterinarian investigating the
incident told the Associated Press their cause of death is unknown but
that there were fireworks in the area Tuesday night.

Along with shock from the fireworks, the vet listed cold weather and difficulty finding food as possible reasons for the deaths.

These recent animal deaths join the thousands of others in the last week in the United States.

On Tuesday, 450 birds plummeted to their deaths in Louisiana for apparently no reason.

Some of these grackles, starlings,
brown-headed cowbirds and red-winged blackbirds may have flown into a
power line, officials said.

On New Year's Eve, more than 3,000 red-winged blackbirds inexplicably fell from the skies in Arkansas.

Officials have acknowledged it is unlikely they will ever determine a cause.

Wildlife experts just west of where the blackbirds were found are still trying to figure out why 100,000 drum fish washed up on the shores of the Arkansas River.

A pollutant would have affected all
fish, not just the one species, so investigators suspect the fish were
stricken by an illness.

Officials said the fish deaths are not related to those of the birds.

With files from Associated Press

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