Investigations are under way as thousands of crabs and lobsters continue to wash up on beaches along the North East of England – in scenes which local residents are calling the ‘worst’ they have ever seen.
The Environment Agency confirmed samples had been taken from the sea creatures, water and sediment for laboratory analysis after the dead and alive animals began appearing on the sand along the Teesside coast between Marske and Saltburn, North Yorkshire, in Seaton Carew, Hartlepool, and further north at Seaham.
It is understood that lab analysis will test the water for pollution while also analysing the dead marine life for parasites and disease.
Scientists have previously blamed seismic surveys, which involve blasting the sea floor with airguns and measuring the echoes in an effort to search for offshore oil and gas reserves, for the deaths of whales and other marine life.
The blasts, which are loud enough to penetrate through the ocean for miles, can affect sea creatures, such as whales, turtles and dolphins, and can lead to the abandonment of habitat, disruption of mating and feeding, beach strandings, and even death.
Professor Alex Ford, who works at the Institute of Marine Science at the University of Portsmouth, suggested pollution, natural storms or harmful algal blooms (HABs), which can also be influenced by organic pollution, were a likely explanation for the shocking scenes.
He said while seismic tests off the North Sea coast impacted the behaviour and physiology of whales and dolphins, they were unlikely to blame for the deaths of the thousands of crabs and lobsters in recent weeks.
He told MailOnline: ‘I think there could be a number of possibilities for the recent dead marine life washed up on the shores in Teesside. These could include natural storms, a pollution event, or harmful algal blooms (HABs) which can also be influenced by organic pollution.
‘Autumnal storms often wash marine life onto the shores around this time and this is often characterised by a mixture of marine creatures and seaweed washing up on the incoming tide.
‘What appeared interesting about this event was the large number of crustaceans species (crabs and lobster) which washed up.
‘What organisations such as the Environment Agency and Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture (CEFAS) will be looking to establish is whether there were any chemical contaminants or toxic algae in the water.
‘In addition, they will be assessing whether the crabs and lobsters have any known diseases from bacteria, viruses or parasites which can kill off large numbers.
‘Sometimes harmful algal blooms (HABs) can lead to this and I suspect that will also be on the Environment Agency’s radar.
‘If it was just one group of animals then I might put it down to disease. If it was lots of varieties of animals it could be storm, pollution or an algal event.’
While some theories have emerged of seismic testing being the cause of the dead sea creatures washed up on shore the scientist said he would ‘rank this lower down on his list of causes’.
He added: ‘With regards to seismic testing, it’s the first I have heard of this theory.
‘There is a lot of testing in Newcastle and along the North Sea and noise is also created during pile driving but I am not aware of any study before that would link this to mass death.
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