Hundreds of dead fish wash up in Sandusky Bay

Published: Jun. 4, 2020 at 5:45 PM EDT
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It was a beautiful summer scene along the shores of Sandusky Bay on Thursday... once you got past the smell. A few days before, plenty of dead fish lined the shores, with few now remaining that hadn't been picked apart by other wildlife. Biologists say events like this are completely natural processes -- especially with the specific type of fish floating up.

"Freshwater drum, sometimes called sheephead around here, are one of the most abundant fish in the lake," says Dr. Christine Mayer at University of Toledo's Lake Erie Center in Oregon. "They tend to stay on the bottom, so they'll be in that habitat that has low oxygen."

Lower than normal oxygen may have contributed to this week's fish kill, though the western basin tends to mix around enough to keep those levels steady.

"It's much shallower," explains Dr. Mayer, "so usually there's a lot more circulation from wind and you won't get as low oxygen at the bottom."

Algae is always a hot topic around here, and may also factor in to these events... but it's early yet in the season to pin any blame on toxic blooms. As Dr. Mayer puts it, "The harmful algal blooms haven't really gotten heavy yet. The algae itself isn't a stress, but as that algae sinks to the bottom and decomposes, that decomposition uses up oxygen."

There is, however, one season that's in full swing which could lead to an unfortunate demise for hundreds of freshwater drum.

"Spawning is a lot of stress," says Dr. Mayer. "Sometimes, fish will be competing for space, they're congregating -- it's a physiological stress, especially with females laying eggs."

Ultimately, the recent heat wave may be the most likely cause of this particular kill. In a statement from

, they say in part: "The sudden increase in water temperature seen over the last week (approximately 10°F at the surface) in Lake Erie’s western basin, coupled with spawning activity, are the type of stressors that can result in fish kills."

Dr. Mayer says lower-end events like this aren't really a sign of the lake's health one way or the other -- and can often provide a windfall of food for eagles and seagulls alike.

"Fish kills happen all the time, and they're not always a sign of something bad... well, it's bad for the fish that die, of course, but it's not necessarily an indication of something terrible!"

If you'd like to report a fish kill event,