Extreme Summer Heat Causing Massive Fish Die Off

By Amir Khan on August 6, 2012 1:10 PM EDT

shiner fish
The record-breaking heat across most of the country has led to fish dying off in the scalding hot water, researchers said. Hundreds of thousands of fish are dying across the Midwest as the heat has dried up rivers and caused water temperatures to spike to nearly 100 degrees Fahrenheit. (Photo: Creative Commons: brian.gratwi)

The record-breaking heat across most of the country has led to fish dying off in the scalding hot water, researchers said. Hundreds of thousands of fish are dying across the Midwest as the heat has dried up rivers and caused water temperatures to spike to nearly 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Last week in Iowa, water temperature reach 97 degrees, and, as a result, almost 40,000 shovelnose sturgeon died. In Nebraska, wildlife officials have seen thousands of dead catfish, carp and other species, including the endangered pallid sturgeon.

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In one Illinois river, the numerous dead fish clogged an intake screen in a power plant to such an extent that the generator needed to be shut down.

"It's something I've never seen in my career, and I've been here for more than 17 years," Mark Flammang, a fisheries biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, told the Associated Press. "I think what we're mainly dealing with here are the extremely low flows and this unparalleled heat."

Dan Stephenson, a biologist with the Illinois Department of Natural Resource, told the Associated Press that it's difficult to estimate just how many fish have died as a result of the heat.

"We're talking hundreds of thousands (killed), maybe millions by now," he said. "If you're only talking about game fish, it's probably in the thousands. But for all fish, it's probably in the millions if you look statewide."

And while there have been heat waves and droughts in the past, this is one of the worst ever, Flammang said.

"Those fish have been in these rivers for thousands of thousands of years, and they're accustomed to all sorts of weather conditions," he said. "But sometimes, you have conditions occur that are outside their realm of tolerance."

The federal U.S. Monitor shows that nearly two-thirds of the lower 48 states are experiencing some form of drought this summer, and nearly 1,600 counties on 33 states have been declared "disaster areas."

"This year has been really, really bad - disproportionately bad, compared to our other years,"  Stephenson said.

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