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SYFY WIRE Dystopia

What Caused Thousands of Dead Fish to Wash Up on a Texas Beach?

Sleeping with the fishes.

By Cassidy Ward
Natasha Lyonne in Poker Face

On Friday, June 9, tens of thousands of dead fish washed up on the shores of Gulf Coast Beach, roughly 65 miles south of Houston, Texas. This wholesale body drop triggered a public health risk and a murder mystery of apocalyptic proportions. Unfortunately, Poker Face’s Charlie Cale (Natasha Lyonne) and her uncanny ability to tell when someone is lying, was not available for consultation. Scientists, however, have cracked the case. The culprit is nature itself, but we might be guilty of aiding and abetting.

What caused a mass fish death in Texas?

Warmer temperatures reduced the availability of oxygen, causing fish to suffocate and wash up on shore.

These so-called “fish kills” aren’t all that uncommon, especially in the summer months. Many of them, including this one, are the result of too little oxygen in the water. Fish, and every other oxygen-breathing organism in the oceans, rely on oxygen dissolved in the water to breathe. Oxygen is added to the system during the day when plants and other organisms photosynthesize to create food, producing oxygen as a biproduct. Oxygen production stops when the Sun goes down, but everything living in the water still needs to breathe.

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Normally, a kind of balance is struck and there’s always enough oxygen stored to make it through the night. However, warmer water can’t hold as much dissolved oxygen as cold water can. So, in the summer months, fish can sometimes suffocate overnight. That’s what happened here. Water samples taken in and around the area revealed almost no dissolved oxygen in the water.

Public health officials issued a warning, urging the public to stay out of the water. “Our recommendation is that you avoid the beach altogether until this event is over. We definitely advise that no one enters the water,” officials said via Facebook.

The sight (and smell) of thousands of dead fish is enough to ruin your day at the beach, but going into the water during these sorts of events can be actively dangerous. The fins of dead fish cut through the water like tens of thousands of slowly shifting razor blades, floating in a sunbaked soup of rapidly rotting fish. It’s not the sort of place you’d want to hang out.

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A cleanup effort began June 9 when the bodies started washing up on shore and ended on Sunday June 11. By then, most of the fish had broken down to the point that they were little more than piled skeletons on the beach. Still, officials recommend staying out of the water a little while longer, to give mother nature an opportunity clean everything up.

When an ecosystem gets overloaded, even for a little bit, nature has ways (terrifying ways) of balancing the scales. Just something for us to think about.

Catch the complete first season of Poker Face, streaming now on Peacock!