Mass animal deaths cause many to search for answers

CLEVELAND - One to the top search terms on the Internet over the past two weeks was this: "dead birds & bible." Several dozen mass bird, fish, and other animal deaths over the past weeks have captured the attention of the world. It's the topic of conversation at work, at school and at home. And now, folks are looking for answers. Why are these events happening, seemingly, all of a sudden? Is it natural or something supernatural?

Biologists are quick to explain the events as common and random. Indeed, the United States Geological Survey keeps track of animal mortality reports .

"Although wildlife die-offs always pose a concern, they are not all that unusual," said Jonathan Sleeman, director of the USGS NWHC in Madison, Wisconsin, "It's important to study and understand what happened in order to determine if we can prevent mortality events from happening again."

According to the USGS, there have been 188 reports of mass deaths of 1,000 or more birds in the last decade. In 2010 alone, there were eight documented mass die-off events of 1,000 or more birds. Scientists say starvation, avian cholera, parasites, and other diseases account for the deaths. The records, Sleeman says, show that, "while the causes of death may vary, events like the red-winged blackbird die-off in Beebe, Ark., and the smaller one near Baton Rouge, La., are more common than people may realize."

But why so many cases in such a short amount of time? Are there other possible explanations?

In late December, an estimated 2 million fish began washing ashore along Chesapeake Bay. In the UK, it was about 40,000 crab. More fish deaths were reported along the Florida Coast, while hundreds of jellyfish and starfish were meeting their maker just north near Charleston, South Carolina. Were these deaths just mass aquatic suicides? Probably not. As of this writing, none of the fish were found wearing white tennis shoes and black t-shirts (insert Comet Hale-Bop reference here).

Many biologists believe the above fish deaths can likely be attributed to....extreme cold weather. Arctic outbreaks and heavy snows have affected a large portion of the coastal US and UK over the past month. In winter, many fish species move closer to shore to feed amongst the colonies of seaweed. It appears many of our fish friends met their demise simply because of below normal water temperatures. In fact, the water temperature in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, should be in the 50s. It currently sits in the upper 40s. Thats very cold to the temperate aquatic species and can cause real stress to any self-respecting fish.

Other mass deaths are likely caused by human factors. In Vietnam, 150 tons of Red Talapia died last month in their aquiculture farm pens. Turns out the farmers have been allowing the fish pens to become very overcrowded. This, plus an unusual amount of ebb tides, caused the oxygen level in the water to drop. The fish died due to lack of oxygen.

In New Zealand, 10 tons of dead fish, including Red Snapper, were found floating, en masse, just off the Northland Coast. The cause of death was traced to commercial fisherman dumping their loads and broken fish nets.

Dozens of residents were sickened after eating some of the thousands of dead fish that washed ashore in the Phillapines. Officials there suspect some sort of water pollution or contamination and are searching for the source.

Also In New Zealand, penguins are washing ashore by the dozens, along with other shorebirds. Officials are expecting thousands more by summer. The current La Nina weather pattern is the strongest here since 1975, says one meteorologist. La Nina is the cooling of the Pacific Ocean waters near the equator. During La Nina events, fair weather high pressure parks over New Zealand. This reduces the small aquatic animals that the fish feed on. The fish then move to other spots to find food. A lack of fish means that the penguins and shorebirds starve to death.

Last week in Italy, thousands of Turtle Doves dropped dead from, what zoo officials there call, "massive indigestion." It appears the birds gorged themselves on sunflower seeds from a nearby sunflower oil factory. The overeating apparently caused damage to each bird's liver and kidneys. But, what would cause these birds to overeat to the point of death?

Despite what seems to some to be very logical explanations for these deaths, many others are looking for larger answers. Some have even coined the phrase "The Aflockalypse" to describe the thousands of bird deaths. So are these events signs of a coming Biblical tribulation?

Although the Bible is open to interpretation, a few verses do mention the death of birds and fishes. Zephaniah 1:3 contains this eerie prophesy about judgment day: "I will consume

the birds of the heavens and the fishes of the sea."

Steve Wohlberg is a sometimes-controversial theologian. He believes the dead birds and dead fish are signs of the "End of Days." Wohlberg quotes Luke 21:11 to back up his assertions: 'Fearful sights and great signs shall there be from Heaven,' he quotes.

Ronald L. Conte Jr., a Roman Catholic theologian and Bible translator, has a different opinion.  "There is nothing in the Bible...concerning the end times about bird or fish or other animal deaths in relation to the Apocalypse."

Conte adds: "Are not the deaths of human persons more important than the deaths of animals? But the event of World War 2, in which millions of persons were killed, was not the start of the Apocalypse. Neither were any of the other wars since that time a sign of, or the start of the end times. Various disasters that have killed many human persons did not herald the Apocalypse. For example, in late 2004, there was an earthquake that caused a tidal wave, resulting in about 250,000 deaths all on one day, in Indonesia. And yet this did not mark the beginning of the apocalypse. So the deaths of some fish and birds cannot be a sign of the Apocalypse either."

Nostradamus is often quoted for his predictions and prophecies of  future tribulations. The History Channel did an entire feature on the famous apothecary from the 1500's. In his many quatrains, Nostradamus does mention birds and fish on occasion. One, in particular, stands out to many as an end-times prediction: "Before these events happen, many rare birds will cry in the air, "Now! Now"! and sometime later will vanish."

Nostradamus paid a lot of attention to the year 2012. According to History.com , he predicts a shift in the earth's magnetic field in that year. Get ready for lots of havoc and mayhem as a result, according to the prophesy.

Scientists say, earth's magnetic poles shift every 250,000 years or so. Is this phenomenon happening again right now? Just last week, the Tampa Airport closed its main runway for re-labeling. The reason? The north pole is shifting! Scientists say the magnetic north pole is moving toward Russia at a rate of 40 miles per year...

What's more, studies show that both birds and fish rely on the earth's magnetism for migration and feeding. They have magnetite in certain cells of their brains that help orient them to the poles. Would a shift in the poles cause fish to swim into shallower waters where the cold could threaten their very lives? Would a shift in the magnetic poles cause birds to become more frequently disoriented in flight or prevent them from feeding properly? Many unanswered questions remain... What do you think? Leave your comments below.

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