The Department of the Interior shared an eerily beautiful photo on Twitter Friday showing a school of dead fish that appear to be suspended in the air inside a wall of ice.
The image makes it look as if they were frozen, mid-leap out of the water, maybe by some unhinged snow queen.
But Kindergarten teacher and photographer Kelly Preheim, who snapped the photo at South Dakota’s Lake Andes National Wildlife Refuge back in March 2015, said the actual culprit was a lack of oxygen in the lake. She gave the backstory to the Fish and Wildlife Service National Wildlife Refuge System, which shared the photo on its Facebook page last month.
“When thick ice (particularly if it gets covered with snow) forms on a lake’s surface, it blocks out the sun, and the algae/plants don’t photosynthesize and produce oxygen, thus depleting oxygen levels,” Preheim said in a comment that she posted under the photo. “If the aquatic plants and algae subsequently die and decompose, this also uses oxygen, further depleting levels, so the fish essentially suffocate from lack of oxygen.”
The dead fish then floated to the surface. It’s not totally clear how they ended up in their current position, but Preheim offered a couple of theories.
“When the weather turned even colder, the ice expanded pushing it toward the shore where it buckled and went vertical. or it may have been driven there by very strong winds,” she said.
Though we feel a little sad for the fish, the silver lining is that their deaths weren’t in vain. Preheim said the thousands of frozen fish on the lake drew “hundreds of bald eagles, various gulls and American crows,” who swooped in for the convenient feast.
Preheim posted a couple more awesome images on her blog showing what happened ― including an eagle standing on a huge swath of frozen fish.
All that said, after seeing an image Friday of a reportedly drowned fox frozen in a block of ice, we’re still not totally convinced there’s not a vindictive snow queen out there.