Australia's Extreme Heatwaves Have Killed a Million Fish, Dozens of Horses

Temperatures in Port Augusta soared to 49.1ºC (120.4ºF) on Thursday, making it the hottest spot in the country.

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Jan 25 2019, 1:00pm

Horses died of thirst in the Australian Outback. Image: Facebook/Ralph Turner

Australians are suffering sweltering heatwaves that are wreaking havoc on people and wildlife.

On Thursday, Adelaide experienced the warmest weather on record for an Australian city at 46.6ºC (115.9ºF) while temperatures in the town of Port Augusta soared to 49.1ºC (120.4ºF), making it the hottest spot in the country.

While people get snowed in from blizzards across North America, Australians are taking shelter from the heat of the Southern Hemisphere summer. But some of the nation’s iconic animals have nowhere to hide, and are dying from exposure to the extreme conditions.

Roughly 90 feral horses were found dead in the Ltyentye Apurte Community of the Australian Outback this week near a dried-up waterhole, having perished of thirst. The Central Land Council, which represents Aboriginal peoples in this region, decided to euthanize more than 50 additional horses because they were suffering and unlikely to recover.

The CLC expects that more horses, camels, donkeys, and other animals are likely to die due to the heat, and the organization is bracing for severe problems as global temperatures rise.

“With climate change well and truly upon us, we expect these emergencies to occur with increasing frequency and nobody is truly prepared and resourced to respond to them,” said CLC director David Ross in a statement.

Though the current temperatures are breaking records, it’s not the first heatwave this summer to deal serious damage to Australian wildlife. From November 26 to 27, temperatures exceeded 42ºC (108ºF) in northern Australia. Scientists estimate this spike killed a staggering 23,000 spectacled flying foxes—about a third of the nation’s entire population of this large bat species.

Read More: Climate Change-Driven Heat Wave Killed a Third of a Bat Population in Two Days

Meanwhile, about 10,000 black flying foxes, a close relative of the spectacled bat, also died from the heat.

The death of these bats from heat stress is “a canary in the coal mine for climate change,” ecologist Justin Welbergen told the BBC. "It is clear from the present data that these [heat] events are having a very serious impact on the species and it's clear from climate change projections that this is set to escalate in the future."

Aquatic species are also vulnerable to the extreme conditions. Droughts and alleged water mismanagement resulted in the deaths of up to a million fish in the Murray-Darling River basin in southeast Australia this month.

With water levels abnormally low and fluctuations in temperatures unusually high, algal blooms began to form more readily, which deprived waterways of oxygen that fish need to live. Hundreds of thousands of fish, mostly herring and perch, suffocated.

The Australian government has resorted to pumping oxygen into the river with aerators to build safe breathing havens for fish. But this is just a “Band-Aid solution,” said Minister for Regional Water Niall Blair, according to The New York Times.

"Nothing will stop this fish kill unless we get proper river flows and water levels in our dams back up to normal,” he added. “We are doing everything we can to try and limit the damage."

January is normally the hottest month of the year in Australia, so the country may finally get some slight relief in February before autumn starts to officially kick in. But as experts pointed out, this is a problem that is will only to get worse as global temperatures rise in the coming years and decades.

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