Rains of Fishes

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

Perhaps the most widely known and, because of the standing of its recorder as an ichthyologist, the most authentic case, is that made known by the Count de Castelnau in 1861. A careful translation of his account is given below. There was an earthquake followed by a tremendous rain at Singapore on February 20, 21, and 26, 1861. To this de Castelnau makes allusion and then continues:

“When the sun came out again I saw members of Malays and Chinese filling their baskets with fish contained in the pools formed by the rain. They told me the fish has ’fallen from heaven,’ and three days later, when the pools were all dried up, there were still many dead fish lying about. I found them to belong to the Clarias batrachus, which can live a considerable time out of water, and even move to some distance on dry land. As they lay in my courtyard, which is surrounded by a wall, they could not have been brought in by the overflowing of a torrent, nor is there any considerable one in the neighborhood. The space covered by these fishes might be about fifty acres. They were very lively and seemed to be in good health. I have particularly remarked the singular occurrence of the fish, having already, during my stay at the Cape of Good Hope, had occasion to mention to the Academy the fact of several new species of fish being found after an earthquake. Is it permissible to suppose that a waterspout, in passing over some large river of Sumatra, had drawn up the fish and carried them over? It is not without diffidence that I venture this hypothesis.”

An account of this phenomenon also appeared in the Zoölogist, 1861, Volume LI, and P. Harting gives the same data in Album Natuur, 1861. Both of these credit the data to Castelnau, but not so the anonymous writer in Das Ausland, 1861, 24. Jahrgang.

In his book published in 1864, Charles Tomlinson recounts a number of instances of falls of fishes. He gives at greater length the account of a fall near Calcutta in 1839, previously referred to by Buist. This is so circumstantial that it is reprinted in full.

“About two o’clock P.M., of the 20th inst. (September, 1839), we had a very smart shower of rain, and with it descended a quantity of live fish, about three inches in length, and all of one kind only. They fell in a straight line on the road from my house to the tank, which is about 40 or 50 yards distant. Those which fell on the hard ground were, as a matter of course, killed from the fall, but those which fell where there was grass sustained no injury; and I picked up a large quantity of them, ‘alive and kicking,’ and let them go into my tank. The most strange thing that every stuck me in connection with this event, was, that the fish did not fall helter-skelter, everywhere, or ‘here and there’; but they fell in a straight line, not more than a cubit in breadth.”

Tomlinson also gives without indication of source a detailed account of a fall of fishes in Scotland, which is reproduced in full.

“Still more recently a fish shower happened near Aberdare. The following passage purport to be the evidence of John Lewis, a sawyer in Messrs. Nixon & Co.’s yard, as taken down by the Rev. John Griffith, vicar of Aberdare and rural dean:—‘On Wednesday, February 9th, I was getting out a piece of timber for the purpose of setting it for the saw, when I was startled by something falling all over me, down my neck, on my head, and on my back. On putting my hand down my neck, I was surprised to find they were little fish. By this time I saw the whole ground covered with them. I took off my hat, the brim of which was full of them. They were jumping all about. They covered the ground in a long strip of about 80 yards by 12 yards, as we measured afterwards. That shed (pointing to a very large workshop) was covered with them, and the shoots were quite full of them. My mates and I might have gathered buckets full of them, scraping with our hands. We did gather a great many—about a bucket-full—and threw them into the rain pool, where some of them now are. There were two showers, with an interval of about ten minutes, and each shower lasted about two minutes, or thereabouts. The time was eleven A M. The morning up-train to Aberdare was just then passing. It was not blowing very hard, but uncommon wet; just about the same wind as there is to-day (blowing rather stiff), and it came from this quarter (pointing to the S. of W.). They came down with the rain in a body like.’

“The Rev. Mr. Griffith adds, that ’such is the evidence. I have taken it for the purpose of having it laid before Professor Owen, to whom, also, I shall send to-morrow, at the request of a friend of his, eighteen or twenty of the little fish. Three of them are large, and very stout, measuring about 4 inches. The rest are small. There were some, but they are since dead, fully 5 inches long. They are very lively.’ A number of these fishes were exhibited for several weeks in the Aquaria house of the Zoological Society’s Gardens, in the Regent’s Park, London.”

Boll records (1868) the following instances of fish falling at certain points in Mecklenburg: at Steuer on July 25, 1795; at Kratzburg, on May 28, 1828; and near Dölitz, Pomerania, June 9, 1868. He says that in each case numbers of small fishes were found, and in one case fairly large ones, and that in the first two instances the rain was accompanied by a waterspout.

A similar occurrence is reported in 1873 by Franz Buchenau in the following words:

“Bremen, May 24. About five o’clock day before yesterday afternoon in the vicinity of Eystrup a great number of fishes fell on and beside the railroad embankment during a storm. They were little so-called whitefish. The appearance of these unaccustomed guests is connected with a waterspout, which, as was later reported to the railway directors here, arose apparently at the same time from the Steinhuder See about four miles distant.”

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