Image: Dead fish
Arkansas Game and Fish Commission
Dead fish are seen along the Arkansas River. staff and news service reports
updated 1/3/2011 2:50:48 PM ET 2011-01-03T19:50:48

State officials on Monday were investigating why 80,000 to 100,000 fish washed up dead on the shores of the Arkansas River last week.

"The fish deaths will take about a month" to determine a cause, Keith Stephens, a spokesman for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, told

Stephens also provided the estimate of 80,000 to 100,000 dead fish.

The fish were found Thursday by a tugboat operator along a 20-mile stretch of the Arkansas River near the city of Ozark.

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The mass kill occurred just one day before thousands of blackbirds dropped dead from the sky in Beebe, Ark., which is 125 miles away.

Officials said 95 percent of the fish that died were drum fish — indicating that the likely cause of death was disease as only one species was affected.

"If it was from a pollutant, it would have affected all of the fish, not just drum fish," Stephens added.

Drum fish, which are bottom feeders, are not sought by fishermen, he added, and fishing was not banned as a precaution. "Right now it's fine to fish," KTHV quoted Stephens as saying. "If you go out there you can still fish for bass and crappie, catfish, it will be fine. Obviously don't eat the dead fish."

Story: No poison found in birds that fell on town

Fish were still floating on the same stretch of river as of Monday morning.

Stephens said that nature will be doing the cleanup. "We'll have raccoon and birds and things like that will take care of it so there is really no cleanup, it's really too big. It's contained along the river channel."

David Lyons, the head of a local chapter of the Sierra Club, told that he was "waiting for the results of the pathology and toxicology tests before I make any judgments about the bird and fish kills.

"So far, the evidence does not suggest that pollution contributed to either the bird or fish kill," he added. "If the test results indicate that contaminants were responsible, then local environmental groups will likely have several questions and concerns about the two events."

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Video: Massive fish kill deepens dead bird mystery

  1. Transcript of: Massive fish kill deepens dead bird mystery

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: We mentioned this earlier and we're back now with the puzzling story of a massive kill of wildlife in the state of Arkansas . Birds falling out of the sky, the result of some sort of trauma, and fish found dead in the water , thousands of them in separate incidents in the same state. We get our report tonight from NBC 's Janet Shamlian in Beebe , Arkansas .

    JANET SHAMLIAN reporting: They rain down on a small Arkansas town like a scene from a horror movie. Thousands of dead black birds on front lawns, and so many in the street, drivers could barely avoid them.

    Mr. CHARLES MOORE (Resident): I went out to get the paper and I looked and I said, 'Wait a minute, what is this?' And there were birds all -- we probably had 14 or 15 just in the front yard.

    SHAMLIAN: As many as 5,000 bird carcasses littered across a one-mile radius after dropping from the sky on New Year's Eve . So you had them just about everywhere?

    Mr. MOORE: Oh, my goodness. They were all over the place .

    SHAMLIAN: What could have caused it? As the state veterinarian examined the birds today, theories have run the gambit from their being hit by lightning or high altitude hail to being spooked to death by New Year's Eve fireworks.

    Dr. GEORGE BADLEY (Arkansas State Veterinarian): They do have a lot of trauma. I mean, they were like they were hit by something.

    SHAMLIAN: Beyond the birds and adding to the mystery, a massive fish kill also here in Arkansas just one day earlier. As many as 100,000 drum fish dead along a 20-mile stretch of the Arkansas River . It's 100 miles from the dead birds but the Internet was ripe with conspiracy theories. One Twitter user writing, "5,000 dead birds , now 100,000 dead fish, definitely an alien invasion happening in Arkansas ." The experts call it coincidence.

    Mr. KEITH STEPHENS (Arkansas Fish and Game Commission): Extremely unusual, having two events like this at practically the same time. We don't think that there's any connection whatsoever.

    SHAMLIAN: Wildlife officials say the fish likely died of disease, not a pollutant. Too alarming. Some have called biblical type of events that have many residents wondering what's next. Janet Shamlian , NBC News, Beebe, Arkansas .


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