Hugh Pickens writes writes: "On August 18, 1961, the Santa Cruz Sentinel reported that thousands of crazed seabirds called sooty shearwaters were sighted on the shores of North Monterey Bay in California regurgitating anchovies, flying into objects and dying on the streets. The avian incidents sparked the interest of local resident Alfred Hitchcock, along with a story about spooky bird behavior by British writer Daphne du Maurier, helping to inspire Hitchcock's 1963 thriller "The Birds," a cautionary tale of nature revolting against man, now ranked among the American Film Institute's Top 10 thrillers of the last century. Now scientists looking at the stomach contents of turtles and seabirds gathered in 1961 Monterey Bay ship surveys have found toxin-making algae were present in 79% of the plankton that the creatures ate. "I am pretty convinced that the birds were poisoned," says ocean environmentalist Sibel Bargu of Louisiana State University. "All the symptoms were extremely similar to later bird poisoning events in the same area." But in a Hitchcock-style twist, plankton expert Raphael Kudela of USC points to leaky septic tanks installed amid a housing boom around Monterey Bay in the early 1960s as the ultimate culprit that may have fed the toxic algae (PDF). "It is to some extent a natural phenomenon, and the best thing we can do is monitor for the presence of toxins, and treat impacted wildlife.""
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