Rains of Fishes

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

raining fish
iStockphoto.com/Sara Robinson

Do fishes fall in rain from the sky? To this question both the layman and the scientist are well-nigh unanimous in giving a negative answer. Recently a level-headed business man and experienced angler grew almost indignant at being asked such an absurd question, and at least one scientific man of my acquaintance has expressed himself equally strongly.

My attention was first called to this subject about eleven years ago on reading De Kay’s account [elsewhere in] this article. It was again forcibly called thereto on my perusing McAtee’s excellent article [also quoted here], in which a considerable number of falls of fishes is recorded. And lastly, my work during the last two and a half years as associate editor with Dr. Bashford Dean of Volume III of the Bibliography of Fishes, now being brought out by the American Museum of Natural History, has, with the completion of the latter part of the synoptic index, brought to my hand all the known literature on the subject. This is herein set forth in the form of chronological excerpts, that the reader may have the evidence before him.

The Accounts

Our first and oldest account of a rain of fishes is found in The Deipnosophists or Banquet of the Learned of Athenæus of Naucratis in Egypt, who flourished at the end of the second and the beginning of the third centuries, A. D. This learned work, first published in 1524, is a compilation of extracts from more than eight hundred classical authors, most of whose works are no longer extant and would be forever lost but for the book of the Deipnosophists. It is written in the form of a dialogue, and in Volume II of Yonge’s translation, in a chapter entitled “De Pluvia piscium,” we read on p. 226:

“I know also that it has rained fishes. At all events Phœnias, in the second book of his Eresian Magistrates, says that in the Chersonesus it once rained fishes uninterruptedly for three days, and Phylarchus, in his fourth book, says the people had often seen it raining fish.”

The next account is contained in a letter from Robert Conny published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London in 1698. Conny did not see the phenomenon nor specimens of the fishes, but had his account from a person who seems to have had his confidence. The account in question is as follows:

“On Wednesday before Easter, Anno 1666, a pasture field at Cranstead near Wrotham in Kent, about two acres, which is far from any part of the sea or branch of it, and a place where are no fish ponds, but a scarcity of water, was all overspread with little fishes, conceived to be rained down, there having been at that time a great tempest of thunder and rain; the fishes were about the length of a man’s little finger, and judged by all that saw them to be whitings, many of them were taken up and shewed to several persons; the field belonged to one Ware a Yeoman, who was at that Easter-Sessions one of the Grand Inquest, and carried some of them to the Sessions at Maidstone in Kent, and he shewed them, among others, to Mr. Lake, a bencher of the Middle Temple, who had one of them and brought it to London, the truth of it was averred by many that saw the fishes lie scattered all over that field, and none in other the fields thereto adjoining: The quantity of them was estimated to be about a bushel, being all together.”

In Volume V of Hasted’s History of Kent, published in 1798, just one hundred years after the preceding, is found the following account of the same fall:

“About Easter, in the year 1666, a pasture field in this parish, which is a considerable distance from the sea or any branch of it, and a place where there are no fish ponds but a scarcity of water, was scattered over with small fish, in quantity about a bushel, supposed to have been rained down from a cloud, there having been at that time a great tempest of thunder, hail, wind, etc. These fish were about the size of a man’s little finger; some were like small whitings, others like sprats, and some smaller like smelts. Several of these fish were shown publicly at Maidstone and Dartford.”

Raphael Eglini, in the Wittenbergischen Wochenblatt for 1771, reports an alleged rain at Cotbus on the midnight of September 2-3, during a heavy thunderstorm. He did not see it, but a number of the fishes, 5-6 inches long, which were said to have fallen, were sent to him. Although the account was attested by various friends, Eglini was doubtful. He suggested that these fish, if identical with those found in the neighboring streams, might have been carried to Cotbus by a waterspout or an overflow. Here, in the third recorded account of a fall of fishes, it may be noted that the correct explanation of the cause of the phenomenon is alleged.

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