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Fishpoclypse: New York Canal Overflowing with Dead Fish

Nov 17, 2016 09:25 AM EST

A massive fish kill carpeted the Shinnecock Canal in Long Island with countless dead menhaden fish, or bunker fish, on Monday morning. Residents and scientists are still investigating the strange demise of tons of bunker fish, an event that's been nicknamed the "fishpoclypse."

Though fish kills are a natural phenomenon that occur from time to time in bodies of water, many speculate that instead of the typical case where fish die due lack of dissolved oxygen when a massive number of fish gather, a predator might be to blame. Most residents believe the bunker were chased by predatory fish, like bluefish and striped bass, through the Shinnecock Inlet, up into the Shinnecock Bay and into a closed lock at the canal, where they were trapped in enormous numbers when the gates were closed for the evening.

Local officials have yet to explain what actually happened here, but this explanation is currently the most popular one with scientists working on the investigation. The bunker fish weren't killed by a build-up of toxic algae or industrial waste. They seem to have been starved of oxygen.

"There was a big school of bluefish in the bay earlier on Sunday," Southampton Marine Science Centre manager Chris Paparo shared with CBS News. "Bluefish eat bunker, and they chase the bunker into the canal like this, and the locks are closed, fish can't escape, and when they get pushed in they deplete the oxygen."

"The canal is a confined area, and when the locks are closed, water isn't moving," Chris Gobler from Stony Brook University's School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences stated in an interview with the Southhampton Press. "Even when there aren't any fish in there, water is still, and the oxygen levels drop. Maybe not to fish kill levels. But when you add fish in there, that knocks the oxygen levels down even further."

Local officials had opened the canal gates as soon as the incident was reported so as to keep oxygen levels up and create a passage for some of the surviving bunker fish to escape. Since then, no more fish deaths have been reported.

The State Department of Environmental Conservation are testing the water to see if pathogens or pollution could have contributed to the incident, but Southampton town supervisor Jay Schneiderman said that the fact that no one's ever seen anything like this before suggests that this was just "one of those things."

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