Pouring a little cold water on the conspiratorial fire recently doused with the fuel of a few thousand dead birds and fish, the Associated Press is reporting today that mass die-offs of animals occur with regularity and, although some elude ready scientific understanding, are virtually always unrelated and attributable to disease or pollution. The sun will not turn black as sackcloth nor the moon red as blood.

Indeed, several thousand blackbirds fell from the sky in Arkansas on New Year’s Eve, a few hundred died near Baton Rouge on the heels of that and, most recently, mass bird deaths were reported from Kentucky and Sweden. And let’s not forget the 2 million fish recently found bobbing in Chesapeake Bay, the 40,000 belly-up crabs in Britain or the 150 tons of dead red tilapia in Vietnam.

As the media glom onto these events and conspiracy theorists connect the dots — and it’s 2012 no less, the year the Maya, who couldn’t outlive their own calendar, predicted the world would end — talk of chemtrails, secret military operations, UFOs and even an angry God is amplified.

But, scientists say, it’s just nature — bacteria, viruses and other ailments easily transmitted among organisms that live in both close quarter and large numbers — or man-made pollution squeezing the ghosts from these delicate creatures:

In the past eight months, the [United States Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center in Wisconsin] has logged 95 mass wildlife die-offs in North America and that’s probably a dramatic undercount... The list includes some 900 turkey vultures that seemed to drown and starve in the Florida Keys, 4,300 ducks killed by parasites in Minnesota, 1,500 salamanders done in by a virus in Idaho, 2,000 bats that died of rabies in Texas, and the still mysterious death of 2,750 sea birds in California.

On average, 163 such events are reported to the federal government each year, according to USGS records. And there have been much larger die-offs than the 3,000 blackbirds in Arkansas. Twice in the summer of 1996, more than 100,000 ducks died of botulism in Canada.

The more likely explanation for the perceived rash of die-offs is simple — an application of Occam’s Razor, if you will: electronic media, especially the Internet and TV, raise awareness of these events. Recall the summer of 2001 and the terrifying rash of sharks attacking swimmers. The story dominated the news for weeks. Then, on Sept. 11, terrorists attacked America and the shark attacks abruptly ended.

Read the full AP story here.

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