Several foot-long lampreys have apparently fallen out the sky recently in Fairbanks, Alaska. They've been found in a shopping center parking lot and on lawns, and residents are unnerved by the creepy, toothed eel-like fish.
According to a story in the Alaska News-Miner, "Adult Arctic lampreys have fallen from the sky four times this week in Fairbanks, including at the Value Village parking lot, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. That's unusual for a fish that's seldom seen in the water up here."
While some news outlets had fun sensationalizing the story (a "New York" magazine headline blared that "Horrifying Fish Monsters Are Falling from the Sky" and another noted that "‘Vampire Fish' Fall From the Sky in Alaska") it's a weird enough story on its own.
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The phenomenon of small animals (such as worms, fish, or frogs) falling mysteriously from the sky has been reported for centuries. Waterspouts or tornadoes crossing over a lake or river can pick up debris, including lightweight aquatic animals, and carry them for miles before raining them down on a puzzled populace. There were no reported tornadoes or waterspouts in Fairbanks, however.
It could be a prank, but the most likely explanation for the falling lampreys was offered by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game: they're dropped from the air by seagulls. Seagulls can often be seen feeding on lampreys and small fish in and over the water, but they don't always eat their prey on the spot. Sometimes they fly away with their marine lunch in their beaks, and on occasion the birds will accidentally drop their meal before it's consumed.
In those cases a lamprey may be found some distance from its aquatic home, and unless a person happens to be watching a seagull as the bird drops its meal, a lamprey would appear to fall from the sky (or be found on a sidewalk) without any apparent origin.
A grand total of four lampreys have been found over the past week-hardly a deluge-and the fact that dead lampreys are rarely seen up close by the general public (being difficult to catch and not sold commercially in the area) may have added to the unnerving effect.
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Mysterious animal deaths often attract news media attention; in 2011 about a million sardines were found floating at a marina in Redondo Beach, Calif. Though some unknown toxin was at first suspected, it was later determined that high winds pushed the fish into the shallow water where their sheer numbers depleted the oxygen and the fish suffocated.
More often than not seemingly mysterious animal deaths and strange behaviors (such as the clumps of worms found oddly aligned last month on a Texas highway) are the result of ordinary behaviors.