Sunday 11 December 2016

'Suicidal' birds that inspired Hitchcock ate toxin

Guy Adams in Los Angeles

Published 29/12/2011 | 05:00

It has taken 50 years, rather longer than the running time of one of his famous horror films, but Alfred Hitchcock's most enduring whodunit appears to have finally been solved.

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Scientists at Louisiana State University claim to have discovered why thousands of seagulls began killing themselves along the coast of northern California in the summer of 1961.

The avian deaths, in which many of the birds flew into houses along the Monterey Bay shore, south of San Francisco, were cited as one of the major inspirations for Hitchcock's 1963 film 'The Birds'.

Now a team of marine biologists, who have been conducting post-mortems of seabirds killed during the 1961 incident, have reached a credible conclusion about their deaths: the creatures were poisoned.

Acid

Writing in the latest edition of the journal 'Nature Geoscience', the researchers say that they examined the stomach contents of seagulls and turtles collected during the period, and discovered unusual quantities of a toxin called domoic acid.

The acid, which most likely came from anchovies and squid which formed part of the birds' diet, can sometimes cause brain damage. In severe cases, it leads to them becoming confused, suffering seizures, and dying.

Sibel Bargu, leading the research, said domoic acid was found in 79pc of the plankton ingested by anchovies and squid. Over a short period, that would become sufficiently concentrated to cause fatal injuries to their predators. (© Independent News Service)

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