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Fish Falls

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768320.  Sun Dec 19, 2010 5:32 pm Reply with quote

Just to correct the illustrious Stephen Fry and his minions of question wranglers.

Fish falls have been reported all over the world. As have frogs, and many other things (some of these are documented in Janet and Colin Bord's books). One of the explanations given (that waters rise, flooding areas with
fish, and then waters recede, leaving the flotsam behind making people think they came from the sky) is bogus. These things have been seen to fall from the sky, and sometimes when there have been no clouds visible.

And...more strangely...very often it is one type of frog, or fish that falls and nothing else. How can tornadoes that pick up junk be so selective? And what about those fish that have been scooped from deep within the sea?


768346.  Sun Dec 19, 2010 7:28 pm Reply with quote

Thanks, Paul. We did find numerous accounts of the sort you describe, followed them up, and couldn't verify a single one of them. For example, there's one fish fall in Honduras which is reputed to occur annually, but there are no scientific accounts of it nor any photos that we could find - both of which you would certainly expect if a phenomenon of this kind was really happening. Here's the script note:

There isn’t a lot of rigorous science associated with tales of fish and frogs falling from the skies, but the idea is at minimum a very pervasive folkloric meme: hails of fish, frogs and even tomatoes have been documented on every continent and in every age (from the rain of frogs in Exodus onwards), even if scientific investigation has been hampered by the unpredictability of the phenomenon. There is one such event which is reported as a regular occurrence: the Lluvia de Peces or "Rain of Fish”, an annual event in the Yoro district of Honduras. Locals trace the event back to a C19th miracle, and hold a festival to commemorate it. Rationalists suggest that that the fishes may be sucked up by mini-tornadoes or waterspouts from an underground lake, but a more widely-accepted theory (and one which appears quite plausible to us) is that annual floods cause riverbanks to break taking fish with the flood waters. When the water recedes, the fish are left floundering. Locals, finding the fish on the ground, naturally attribute this to the idea that they have fallen from the sky.

Whatever the reason behind the Honduran events, accounts of raining animals are strikingly pervasive, even today. Pliny the Elder, writing in the first century AD, mentioned storms of frogs and fish and Charles Fort (1874-1932), the original Fortean, was one of the first to scour the newspapers for the phenomenon: he described "gushes of periwinkles" that fell on Worcester, together with heaps of crabs, on May 28, 1881. In 1894 a rain of jellyfish fell onto Bath and more recently, in 1998, hundreds of dead frogs fell onto Bracknell. In 2004, the village of Knighton, in Powys, was reported to have endured a fishy downpour.

The standard explanation is that, given strong enough winds, in thunderstorms for example, small whirlwinds and mini-tornadoes form. As they travel over water, the whirlwinds pick up debris and carry it for several miles. This theory is consistent with the kind of animals which are usually reported as falling (fish and frogs: small, light and aquatic) but can't really account for all events. One hot-spot in Australia, for instance (Lajamanu in the Northern Territory), has been hit by fish-falls three times in the last thirty years but is 34 miles from the nearest river. Furthermore, the whirlwind hypothesis sits awkwardly with many of the reports, which may feature falls on the same small area for extended periods of time (up to 10 minutes); and on the same area more than once. Also the fish are typically of one size or one species, with no associated debris, for which separation by centrifuge seems an inadequate explanation. An open-minded person might well conclude that various different events are being conflated in these accounts: rivers flooding; waterspouts; pranks and exaggerations; and perhaps other things – all contributing to the creation of a widespread popular meme.

Some believe that these events may give us the phrase "raining cats and dogs" - they're wrong. It's more likely that cats were associated with rain especially by sailors, and that dogs were symbols of wind, often accompanying images and descriptions of the Norse storm god Odin. It could also be a corruption of a rare French word, catadoupe, meaning a waterfall, or the Latin cata doxas meaning contrary to experience (like many such etymologies, an attractively plausible idea for which there is no evidence).

Fish eggs routinely fall from the sky, carried by birds. There’s a place in Brazil called the Lençóis Maranhenses (“Bedsheets of Maranhao”) National Park which is entirely composed of sand dunes. Every year rainfall creates freshwater lagoons between the dunes. These completely disappear in the dry season, but every year the lakes are repopulated with fish born from eggs brought from the sea by birds.

In Discworld there’s a fish cannery in the mountains which runs a business canning fish which regularly fall from the sky, and the Hitchhiker’s Guide has a sperm whale which falls onto the planet Magrathea.


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