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Predators behind mass herring deaths: experts

Biologists believe that thousands of herring found dead on a beach in northern Norway last week may have been chased there by killer whales or other predators.

Predators behind mass herring deaths: experts
Photo: Jan Petter Jørgensen/Scanpix

Residents of Kvennes in Troms County, northern Norway, have flocked to the local beach since the mysterious discovery there on December 28th of an estimated 20 tonnes of silver-tinged herring.

Although no one is certain how the herring perished, Ole Kristian Berg, professor of fish ecology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, said the huge school of fish was likely hunted ashore by larger species.

“I give a high vote for predators,” Berg told The Local.

He said the herring, well fed on plankton, tend to “just roam around” for a period each winter before migrating south. This makes them excellent prey for hungry predators.

Berg said “pollock, cod and, of course, killer whales” were the most plausible suspects.

For the herring, each weighing in at 100 to 200 grams, the episode showed the downside of schooling.

“Being in a school brings the fish together, but it can also lead to accidents when they stop working as individuals.”

Stressing the speculative nature of his theory, Berg said the herring were probably left to die after they were hunted into the shallowest of waters and up onto dry land.

His view is shared by Aril Slotte, a leading biologist at the Institute for Marine Research.

“There’d be no reason for the fish to swim in of their own accord, but it wouldn’t be strange for them to be hunted,” he told newspaper VG.

He added, however, that the quantities of fish found on the beach were astonishing, and he had “never seen anything like it before.”

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OFFBEAT

Norwegian road authority in hot water for dumping rocks near UNESCO-listed fjord

The Norwegian Public Roads Administration will need to clear up more than 1,000 trucks worth of stones and rubble it left near the stunning UNESCO world heritage listed Nærøyfjord.

Norwegian road authority in hot water for dumping rocks near UNESCO-listed fjord
Nærøyfjorden near to where the Norwegian Public Roads Administration left behind more than 11,000 cubic metres of rocks. Photo by Arian Zwegers on Flickr.

Fly-tipping and rubbish dumping are typically associated with rogue tradespeople and cowboy builders, but it’s the Norwegian Public Roads Administration that is being asked to clear some 11,250 cubic metres of rocks it left near a UNESCO listed beauty spot.

The breathtaking Nærøyfjord in Aurland municipality, south-western Norway, is a landscape conservation area meaning its protected and, therefore, the rubble shouldn’t have been left there.

“This is a blister. We will clean up after ourselves,” Stig Berg Thomassen, project manager for the road authority, told NRK.

The rocks were left behind following a project to upgrade the nearby Gudvanga tunnel.

Thomassen said the mess was left in the conservation area because it wasn’t clearly marked as off-limits.

Nærøyfjorden has been listed as a landscape conservation area since 2002, and the site was added to the UNESCO world heritage list a few years later in 2005.

READ ALSO: You can now get married at this famous Norwegian beauty spot

The municipality in Aurland has given the road authority until December 17th to clear the mess. The mayor for the municipality said the road authority would begin to clear up the remnants of its building project as soon as possible.

The stones won’t be going far, though and will only be moved around 50 to 100 metres along the road to where the conservation area ends.

Project manager Thomassen has admitted that the situation could have been avoided with better planning.

“Yes, we should have probably have done that (prepared better). The situation is as it is, so we just have to clean up. It won’t take long to move the rocks. The Stones will only be transported 50 to 100 meters,” he confessed.

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