The night passed quietly, when suddenly several knocks began to be heard in the houses of the residents of Capitola, California. Frightened, the inhabitants went out in search of the loud noises, only to find an almost apocalyptic scene. Hordes of birds bombed their homes, crashed into cars and spit anchovies onto the streets.
It was August 1961 when the mysterious incident happened. By then the experts had the theory that those aberrant behaviors of the birds were due to the fog, although they could never confirm it. It was not until 2012 when a group of biologists managed to explain that this had really been due to the domoic acid, a neurotoxin produced by some marine algae.
During the summer,many birds feed on krill, squid and fish found in the waters of Californian bays such as Monterey. These in turn feed on these algae which, due to the high temperatures and the increase in nitrates in the water, end up producing toxins.
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An intoxication that ended in tragedy
domoic acid it was first identified as a toxin in 1987, after three people died from a shellfish poisoning and hundreds will get sick from consuming mussels from the Prince Edward Island, in Canada.
It turns out that this acid produced by the blooms of toxic algae accumulate in shellfish or fish such as anchovies and sardinesthus joining the food chain of birds and humans.
Some years later, this toxin was implicated in the 1991 seabird die-off in Monterey Bay. At first, the mass death of these birds was to be attributed to fog or some infectious disease, but when checking the digestive tracts of the fish – the main food of the birds in the region – they found that they were full of domoic acid.
This was what caught the attention of the group of researchers at the Louisiana State University, headed by biologist Sibel Barguwho explain that this is mainly because the zooplankton feed on algae and accumulate toxins that are then passed on to other animals further up the food chain.
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Due to this, a great environmental tragedy occurred, where hundreds of dead birds were found along the Bay and in the residential areas of Opal Cliffs, Capitola. The few that survived were rescued by the population and taken back to the ocean, where little by little they were able to recover.
This toxin can cause seizures and neurological problems in animals, while in humans it can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and even short-term memory loss.
The mystery that inspired Alfred Hitchcock
The Birds is one of the most famous horror films by film director and producer Alfred Hitchcock. Initially the work was based on the novel by the English author Daphne du Maurie, which bears the same name as her film. Even so, this event that occurred on the Californian coast inspired the narrative line that in the end managed to give credibility to that fictional story.
The film presented how in an inexplicable way a flock of birds began to attack the protagonist and the cityfrom residents to students, thus causing great panic in the population.
The media coverage of the events was so great at the national level that many people would remember by 1962 – the date of the film’s release – everything that had happened just a few months earlier. This, coupled with Hitchcock’s fame and the film’s production, made it widely received and critically acclaimed.
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