Video: HamptonWatercraft/YouTube

Earlier this week, an unforgettable sight greeted the residents of Hampton Bays, New York, as thousands upon thousands of dead bunker fish filled the Shinnecock Canal. Here’s what caused this gruesome fishpocalypse.

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These bunker fish, also known as menhaden fish, weren’t killed by toxic algae or industrial waste. Rather, they were starved of oxygen. Like mammals, fish need oxygen to survive, and as owners of aquariums know, the water in which fish reside must contain plentiful amounts of this life-giving gas.

According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the fish were fleeing a predatory school of bluefish when they wandered into the canal. Unfortunately for the fish, the canal was closed for the night, creating a dead end. The ever-crowding conditions resulted in rapid depletion of oxygen in the water. Thousands of fish were asphyxiated, creating a blanket of stinky corpses across the surface of the canal.

When the locks were opened the next morning, many of the dead fish floated back out to sea, or were washed up on shore. Some fish even managed to make it out alive. A number of fisherman arrived at the scene to scoop up some of the popular bait fish, which they’ll use to trap lobster and capture sea bass.

As a precaution, the county’s health department is collecting water samples to test for pathogens and pesticides.

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[Popular Science]