Approximately 30,000 to 40,000 menhaden fish washed ashore along a mile-and-a-half-long stretch of beach from Georgetown County, S.C., to Pawleys Island, said Pawleys Island Police Chief Michael Fanning, according to NBC News. It seemed likely that thousands more of the 6- to 8-inch-long fish would wash ashore later.
This is the second time in one week such an incident has occurred in the area, notes NBC News. Late last week, hundreds of thousands of the small, oily fish washed up near Masonboro Island, N.C.
“One time I was here I saw a bunch of jellyfish,” South Carolina resident Bill Vogel told NBC local affiliate WMBF News of the dead fish. “They were all on the shore but nothing like this, it’s really weird.”
The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) tried to explain the fish die-off on Wednesday.
“It’s an occurrence called hypoxia,” Sergeant Steve Pop told WMBF. “That is dissolved oxygen levels in the water that drop to a level that is not sustainable for the fish… We’ve got some deep holes off of north inlet that holds these fish. This time of year the fish congregate in these holes which is depleting the oxygen source.”
Mel Bell, Director of the Office of Fisheries Management for S.C. DNR, elaborated on the theory: “On Friday we had a new moon [which caused] real high high tides and real low low tides,” he told The Sun News. “Probably what happened was a school [of menhaden] got in an area of water on a high tide, in a hole or depression, and at low tide they were trapped and depleted the oxygen in the water. Then, all the fish would suffocate.”
On Thursday, however, the DNR ruled out low dissolved oxygen, algal bloom or cold temperatures as the culprit for the fish death, according to The Sun.
Mass animal deaths made headlines back in 2011 when thousands of animals were found dead in countries around the world. The mass deaths continued into 2012. Hundreds of Humboldt squid beached themselves near Santa Cruz, Calif., in December. In September, dead seagulls and fish washed ashore on Lake Eerie.