As most people were counting down to the new year, residents in an Arkansas city were counting blackbirds, which were falling dead from the sky by the thousands. That strange occurrence came shortly after another mysterious and apparently unrelated episode of fish dying nearby. In that case tens of thousands of fish were found belly-up in the Arkansas River about 125 miles away.

We're going to begin to discuss this with Mark Oliver. He's the chief of fisheries in the state of Arkansas. He's on the line.

Welcome to the program.

Mr. MARK OLIVER (Arkansas Fisheries Chief): Glad to be here.

INSKEEP: What did you see when you got to the banks of the river?

Mr. OLIVER: Well, there was a lot of dead white bodies. I mean, they were just rowed(ph) up along the banks. The interesting thing is the Arkansas River's got a series of locks and dams on it, and they make pools. And this was one pool where we had this die-off, and the pool above and below, we looked and we couldn't find any dead drum.

INSKEEP: Now, forgive me for sounding cynical, but when I first heard about a massive die-off, my first cynical thought was, well, somebody's fishing with dynamite again. But...

Mr. OLIVER: No. This one - we would've seen all different species if that had been the case. That does happen every now and then, but not this time.

INSKEEP: So what could've killed just one kind of fish, the freshwater drum, in such large numbers?

Mr. OLIVER: Normally it's a disease, either a bacterial infection or a viral infection.

INSKEEP: When you looked at the fish - the dead fish - was it obvious that they were diseased? Did you see something on the outside of them, for example?

Mr. OLIVER: No, sir(ph). I didn't see anything. They looked fine. There weren't any lesions or marks on them in any way. A lot of times that's the case with diseases.

INSKEEP: So you were looking at fish on New Year's Eve. Let's bring in now the Arkansas chief of wildlife, David Goad, who has people who were looking at another kind of problem.

Mr. Goad, what happened in the Arkansas town of Beebe on New Year's Eve?

Mr. DAVID GOAD (Arkansas Wildlife Management Chief): Well, sometime around 11:30, residents started calling the police department up there in Beebe reporting blackbirds falling out of the sky. State police brought a helicopter up there. We flew probably for a little more than a square mile. The landscape was dotted with dead and dying blackbirds.

We believe something disturbed those birds, whether it was storms or fireworks going off. They don't handle stress very well. And if they were asleep in the roost site and they got woke up suddenly with a shock, then chances are they would've been running into each other and hitting limbs and everything else.

INSKEEP: Meaning that they would actually manage to fly away. They would manage to escape some little distance but then be so panicked that they would not know what to do and...

Mr. GOAD: Just die. If they're shocked off that roost site, then they're just flying to beat 60 to try to get out of there, if you will. And they'd just get overcome with stress and they just can't handle it.

INSKEEP: Have you ever seen thousands of birds affected like this?

Mr. GOAD: No, I never have. I mean, there's die-offs. I mean, one fish or animal gets sick and it spreads quickly through that population. So it's not uncommon. I think it's pretty weird that it all happened at once.

INSKEEP: So what is your next step in each of these investigations?

Mr. OLIVER: Well, on the fish end - on the drum we've taken samples to the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. They have a lab. They'll tell us if they can tell us what diseases it was, is what we're anticipating.

INSKEEP: And what is your next step in the bird investigation?

Mr. GOAD: We sent some to Madison, Wisconsin, to a lab. We will quickly, I hope, rule out any toxins or diseases. And then we'll just have to kind of scratch our heads and try to figure what might've happened.

INSKEEP David Goad is the Arkansas chief of wildlife.

Thanks very much.

Mr. GOAD: Thank you, sir.

INSKEEP: And Mark Oliver is the Arkansas chief of fisheries.

Thanks to you as well.

Mr. OLIVER: Thank you.

INSKEEP: They're investigating the unrelated but simultaneous die-offs of birds and fish in Arkansas.

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