Rains of Fishes

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

The Credibility of These Accounts

Omitting Humboldt’s account of the fall of Pimelodus cyclopum in hot water ejected from volcanoes in South America, since that fall has an entirely different origin and causation, there are herein enumerated forty-four distinct accounts of rains of fishes. These phenomena, when grouped under the countries where they occurred, show the following distribution: United States, 7; Canada, 1; England, 1; Scotland, 9; Germany, 8; France, 1; Greece, 1; India, 10; Ceylon, 3; Malaysia, 2; South Sea Islands, 1. Surely such a large array of accounts from eleven different regions of the earth, ranging from the eastern part of North America, across western and southern Europe, touching southern and southeastern Asia, and ending in the South Sea Islands, should be credible on the bare setting forth of the facts.

Another circumstance tending to establish the credibility of these accounts is the fact that they are published in books and journals differing greatly in character. The books include works on meteorology, travel, history, and natural history; the journals are mainly devoted to natural history, but published in widely separated parts of the world, and while some of them are well known, others are comparatively obscure. A perusal of the accounts given above (most of them verbatim excerpts) must convince the reader that those who made efforts to review the literature,—Thompson, 1849; Tennent, 1861; Tomlinson, 1864; and McAtee, 1917,—had only limited knowledge of the considerable literature devoted to this subject. This is plainly due to the fact that the accounts were published in widely scattered and little known books and journals and that even as late as McAtee’s paper no complete bibliography of the literature of fishes was available for any one desiring to weigh all the facts.

“Now it cannot be maintained that all the accounts noted are of equal credibility. Some are here hearsay, some are hearsay pretty well attested and some are recorded by scientific men, who in certain instances apparently saw the fishes fall.”

Now it cannot be maintained that all the accounts noted are of equal credibility. Some are mere hearsay, some are hearsay pretty well attested (i.e., matters of general knowledge in the community) and some are recorded by scientific men, who in certain instances apparently saw the fishes fall, in other instances found them immediately after a hard rain covering ground ordinarily dry,—that is ground far removed from swamps and streams. To proclaim disbelief in the phenomenon of rains of fishes, to refuse credence to accounts so widespread in time and space, so throughly corroborative, would in the mind of the writer be indicative of an inability properly to evaluate evidence.

As a matter of fact but two authors have endeavored to deny the credibility of such phenomena. The first of these is Eglini (1771), who in his first account seems to have doubts, but on the whole accepts the fact on the assumption that it is the action of a waterspout. In his second account, written in the same year, he quotes a “scholar in Luckau who saw it,” and who sent him specimens of the fish. However, because these fish apparently were not such as occur in the neighboring streams, and because he received a negative report from a “learned gentleman of Lausitz,” he brands the reputed fall as a deception. The “learned man” in question was out on the evening of the storm until eleven o’clock (the storm occurred at midnight), sat at an open window almost all night, and finally was again in the open early in the morning, without seeing the least trace of fishes. “Therefore I may affirm with certainty that the whole proceeding said to have occurred with this storm is a lie.” However, he omits to say whether or not he explored the whole area of the track of the storm, and apparently he declares the matter a lie because he found no fishes in the vicinity of his own home.

The only author who has endeavored to controvert some of the numerous accounts given is W. Sharpe (1875). After quoting Tennent’s personal experience given above, he endeavors to explain it away by alleging that the fishes are left stranded from an overflow, or are caught migrating from one point to another. He says that no scientific man has ever seen a rain of fishes, nor have fishes ever been caught in rain barrels, and finally that they are always found alive whereas, if rained down, the fall would kill them.

In answer to this it may be said no scientific man has ever had a rain of fishes fall on him, nevertheless the testimony of Tennent, Castelnau, and others cannot be explained away. As to the second point, let us recall that Prinsep found a fish in his pluviometer standing on a pedestal five feet above ground, and that Mrs. Caudell found one in the hollow of a chopping block at least eighteen inches above the ground. As to the fact that fishes are commonly alive and are not killed by the fall, as Sharpe thinks they should be, the retort may be made that all fishermen know that fishes generally succumb slowly to falls and blows, and that if the fish fell on grassy lands, the shock would be much decreased. However numbers of those found were actually dead.

The Explanation 

Omitting Humboldt’s account of the fall of catfish in South America, for which an explanation has already been indicated, four explanations offer themselves for the appearance of fishes accompanying heavy rains. The first of these is that the fishes might have been migrating overland from one stream or pond to another. Now migratory fishes are of but few kinds, and are found only in a few countries. Of the countries noted above such an occurrence might take place only in India, Ceylon, or Malaysia. But the accounts of the falls of Indian fishes are so definite and circumstantial as to rule out this possibility. Again, many of the falls have taken place in northern countries, where there are no migratory fish, and finally many of the fish rained down are marine forms.

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