That's the question wildlife experts around the country are asking as they try to decipher massive die-offs among three animal species. First it was Colony Collapse Disorder, which devastated bee colonies last year and continues to drive beekeepers out of business. Several months later, a strange sickness known as White Nose Syndrome began attacking bat populations in the Northeast. The reasons for that, too, remain mysterious. Experts and researchers estimate that more than 200,000 bats might die this year.
Now it's the salmon that are disappearing. The Sacramento River, one of the richest spawning locations on the West Coast, saw a record low number of Chinook, or king, salmon return to spawn this past fall. The Pacific Fishery Management Council forecasts this year's run at 22% of the long-term average, and has called off the upcoming fishing season.
“The word ‘disaster’ comes immediately to mind,” said council chairman Don Hansen.
All of this could spell big changes for the food industry. Bees and bats are reliable pollinators, responsible for propagating more than a $15 billion share of the food industry. And wild-caught salmon, a popular item in any supermarket seafood case, could soon reach upwards of $30 a pound, experts say.