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Thousands of tons of dead fish have washed up on a beach in northern Japan, and no one knows why.

The haul – mostly sardines and some mackerel – washed ashore in Hakodate on the northernmost main island of Hokkaido on Thursday morning.

This created a blanket of shrapnel that stretched for half a mile along the coast.

Locals said they had never seen anything like it. Officials posted a warning online urging people not to consume the fish after some packaged it up for consumption or sale.

Sardines and mackerel wash up on a beach in Hakodate, Hokkaido, northern Japan (Image: AP) Takashi Fujioka, a researcher at the Hakodate Fisheries Research Institute, said he had heard of similar phenomena before, but it was the first time that he had seen her (Image: AP)

Takashi Fujioka, a researcher at the Hakodate Fisheries Research Institute, said he had heard of similar phenomena but it was the first time he had seen them.

“One possible cause is that the school of fish was chased by a larger fish, became exhausted and washed up by the waves,” he suggested.

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“Another possible cause is that the schools of fish entered cold waters during their migration and were then washed ashore. “But details are uncertain.”

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The decomposing fish could lower oxygen levels in the water and harm the marine environment, he said.

“We don’t know exactly under what circumstances these fish washed up, so I don’t recommend eating them,” Fujioka added.

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