Caution Urged in Waters Where Thousands of Bunker Died

Bunker fish died in the Shinnecock Canal on Nov. 14. Amy Beth Stern

Thousands of dead bunker that washed up on the shores of the Shinnecock Canal last month are still a threat, according to Suffolk County health officials.

Bunker, or menhaden, died on Nov. 14 as a result of near-zero oxygen conditions in the canal overnight caused by predatory fish pushing them north, water quality experts said. A massive cleanup was implemented to clear the waters of the dead fish, but many remain and are still washing up ashore. 

The Suffolk County Department of Health Services is warning residents and visitors to follow "some common-sense recommendations," a statement issued on Friday said. The water may contain bacteria, parasites, and other microorganisms, and exposure to it, even on a raft or boat, can be problematic if it comes into contact with skin.

Health officials recommend avoiding the water where the dead fish accumulated and any that is cloudy or discolored, as it may contain microorganisms that can make people sick or affect their ability to see underwater hazards. 

Wash your hands and exit the water before eating. Avoid touching your face before you have thoroughly washed your hands and shower as soon as possible after being exposed to the water. 

If you come across dead fish, wear disposable nitrile, rubber, or plastic protective gloves or use a plastic bag to pick up the fish. If you accidentally ingest any decaying matter, seek medical attention immediately, officials said.

Also, eating any fish from waters where the dead fish were found can make you sick.