Hundreds of Fish Are Washing Up Dead on Ocracoke Island: Here’s Why

by Tia Bailey
Photo by Estate Of Keith Morris/Redferns/Getty Images

Residents of Ocracoke Island have seen hundreds of fish washing up dead on the shore. The occurrence is unusual, but there are a few possible explanations.

Bluefish are currently migrating to open waters near the island. Fall is the area’s prime fishing season, and because of the amount of fish that migrate, strange things happen sometimes. Melinda Sutton, who owns Tradewinds Tackle in Ocracoke with her husband, Alan, spoke about the fishy situation.

“This time of year, we start seeing the fish leave the sound and start to winter in the ocean,” Sutton said. “But what’s happening is that the bluefish are swimming in the water, and are pushing the bait fish up to the shoreline, and when the waves come in, the fish get stranded on the beach.”

Because the smaller fish are being washed up during the daytime, it is likely that the bluefish are to blame. Island Free Press reports that bluefish are more active during the day. This is when the smaller fish are washing up on shore. Additionally, bluefish are aggressive when hunting their prey in the water. They are known to chase the bait towards the beach. This leads to an occurrence known as “bluefish blitz,” where they attack smaller fish in big packs in shallow water.

“We think it’s the bluefish that have been in the sound all summer and are heading out to the ocean, and it’s not a [straightforward] north-south migration from here,” Sutton said to the publication. “Even in our Oyster Creek area, where there are canals bordering houses, we’ve had reports of more and more fish in the water.”

Bluefish Blitz Causing Hundreds of Small Fish to Wash Onshore

She continued: “We’ve recently had our full moon – or harvest moon – so it’s really bright at night, and the drum prefer the lower light conditions. Meanwhile, the bluefish are more attracted to what they can see, and when they can spot that flashing, silver [color].”

Sutton also shared a story from a resident who is stunned at the amount of dead fish on the beach.

“A gentleman who has lived here his whole life told me that he has never seen anything like it. The smaller fish are literally running away from the bluefish,” she said.

They shared images of the beach to their business’s Facebook page, Tradewinds Tackle. They wrote: “Bluefish have been blitzing the Ocracoke beach off and on the past couple of weeks. Amazingly beautiful and tragic at the same time. Smaller fish (mostly spot in these photos) are literally throwing themselves onshore to escape the teeth in the water. Heather Johnson captured the cycle in her amazing photography. Thanks so much for allowing me to share.”

“We normally have some sort of storm event by this point that shifts the typical activity, but that hasn’t happened yet this year,” Sutton said of the incident.