Rains of Fishes

A compilation of the evidence that fishes occasionally fall from the sky

There is now to be given the brief account written by De Kay in 1842 which first interested me in the phenomenon of the rain of fishes and which ultimately led to the writing of this paper. De Kay says that “in the summer of 1824, a number of these fish [Batrachus, now Opsanus tau] were found in the streets of New York after a heavy shower.” He adds that these little fish are carried up by whirlwinds or waterspouts, and that they are very tenacious of life.

In 1849, Thompson mentions a number falls previously referred to in this article and then records, without citing his source of information, that in Argyllshire, Scotland, in the little island of Ula, after a heavy rain there were found scattered over the fields a number of small herrings, all perfectly fresh, and some scarcely dead; furthermore, that a fish, ten inches long, together with smaller ones, fell at Boston, Massachusetts, on June 30, 1841, and that in July of that year a shower of fish and hail occurred at Derby, England; that in 1829 at Moradabad, India, numbers of a species of Cyprinus fell; that on September 20, 1839, a number of living fish about three inches long rained down at a place twenty miles south of Calcutta.

Dr. Buist in the Bombay Times of the year 1856, after discussing rains of fishes in various parts of the world says that in 1824 fishes fell at Meerut on the men of Her Majesty’s 14th Regiment, then out at drill, and were caught in numbers. At Allahabad in 1835, there was a fall of fish during a heavy storm. No particulars were given, but it could not have been a case of æstivation or migration, since the fish were found dead and dry after the passage of the storm. Again at the Sunderbunds, about twenty miles south of Calcutta, on September 20, 1839, there fell in a heavy squall a number of small, live fish about three inches long. These were not scattered over the country but were found in a long, narrow, and fairly straight row.

“This brought with it so many fish that the ground was literally covered, and some were even found on the tops of haystacks.”

Buist records two other significant falls. In 1850, on July 25, there was at Kattywar, a tremendous deluge of rain: thirty-five inches fell in twenty-six hours; twenty-seven inches in twenty-four hours, and seven and one-half inches in one and one-half hours. This brought with it so many fish that the ground was literally covered, some were even found on the tops of haystacks. And two years later at Poonah, after a heavy rainfall, multitudes of fishes were picked up on the cantonment grounds, which were situated a full half-mile from the nearest stream. All these falls noted by Buist are alleged to have been accompanied by heavy wind and rainstorms.

Boll in 1858 quotes a newspaper account of a heavy storm very like a waterspout that broke over Lake Plauer in Mecklenburg and the neighboring country. This storm tore great holes in the hills and filled these with water in which were found on the following day numerous small, living fishes and crustaceans. Boll also quotes the Monatsschrift von und für Mecklenburg of 1795 (p.310) to the effect that a similar heavy storm in the year 1795 passed over Lake Müritz, scattering fishes on the pasture and cultivated land adjoining. I have not been able to find the Monatsschrift in America and have not been able, therefore, to verify the citation.

In the Proceedings of the Boston Society of Natural History for 1859, Volume VI, there is noted a letter from Prof. O. P. Hubbard, of Dartmouth College, in which he gave an account of a fall of fish at a town in Vermont, that occurred during a sudden squall of wind accompanied by rain, and he furthermore stated that this was but the last of a number of similar instances which had come to his notice.

Tennent in his Natural History of Ceylon, published in 1861, records a number of instances of falls of fishes in India and Ceylon. Some of these have been noted already. Broadly speaking, he says that in Ceylon it is the general belief that heavy bursts of the monsoon bring falls of fishes, since fishes of small size are frequently found in hollows along the roads and in depressions previously dry and sunbaked. Speaking specifically, he states that on one occasion he saw a violent shower fall on the road just ahead of him, and that when he got there, he “found a multitude of small silvery fish one and one-half to two inches in length leaping on the gravel of the high road, numbers of which I collected and brought away. . . . The spot was half a mile from the sea and entirely unconnected with any water course or pool.” Such evidence as this from so eminent a student of natural history as Sir J. E. Tennent is absolutely incontrovertible.

Next he quotes a Mr. Whiting of Trincomalee, who claimed that he had often been told by natives of such rains of fishes and that on one occasion he was taken to a field “which was dry when I passed over it in the morning, but which had been covered in two hours by a sudden rain to the depth of three inches, in which there were seen a quantity of small fish. The water had no connection with any pond or stream whatever.” On another occasion a Mr. Cripps, of Galle, wrote him that he had seen fishes taken from hollows in the land which in the dry season were completely devoid of moisture. Since there was neither running water nor tank near by, Mr. Cripps was convinced that “either the fish or the spawn from which they were produced must of necessity have fallen with the rain.” As these fish were found immediately after the rain, it could not be claimed that either the fish themselves or their ova had been imbedded in the earth and had awakened from æstivation, moreover, the earth to a depth of from twelve to eighteen inches is ordinarily baked as hard as a brick, precluding the possibility of their being imbedded.

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