EarthWord–Mortality Event

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Image: Dead Fish Washed Ashore during Golden Alga Toxic Bloom
Dead Fish Washed Ashore during Golden Alga Toxic Bloom. Credit: Mike Hooper, USGS. Public domain

The EarthWord: Mortality Event

Definition:

  • One of the world’s least enjoyable events, a mortality event happens when a lot of animals die off suddenly.

  • Many times, these events are unexpected or their cause is difficult to determine.

Etymology:

  • Mortality comes from the Latin word mortalitas, meaning “subject to death.”

Use/Significance in the Earth Science Community:

  • Mortality events play a significant role in wildlife epidemiology. Scientists attempt to determine the cause of mortality events to see if a disease is the cause, human activity, or some other reason.

  • For endangered species, mortality events can significantly threaten the population, as there may not be enough surviving individuals to form a viable population.

USGS Use:

  • The USGS National Wildlife Health Center studies and responds to mortality events, and we work with wildlife managers to prevent events from occurring.

  • We report mortality events on the Wildlife Health Information Sharing Partnership or WHISPers map, including date, location, and species affected.

  • If you see sick or dead wildlife, please do not handle; we recommend that you contact your state natural resources agency.

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