Raining Fish in Queensland, Australia

The Cropster has been quiet of late, what with everything that’s been happening worldwide. I think what everyone needs to lift our spirits is a dash of classic Fortean weirdness. How about some good old-fashioned Rains of Fish?

The first incident took place on the evening of the 4th of March this year in the small town of Yowah, around 950 kilometres west of Brisbane. According to various media sources, the fish had appeared after heavy rainfall linked to ex-tropical cyclone Esther. A precipitation chart for 9 p.m. on the night in question shows that a huge rain event was covering much of the Australian eastern states.

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Local Yowah store owner Rick Shiells found the fish in the morning while going to check his rain gauge. “As I’m walking along I saw a little fish, about an inch long, swimming in the puddle,” he said. “I thought, ‘geez, that’s unusual’.”

Rick found plenty more fish, some up to 70 millimetres long. He was convinced the fish must have come from the sky. There was a bore drain behind his caravan park, but when that overflows onto the street the water in red hot.

“There’s no way it could have come out of the (bore) water — it’s obviously come from the sky,” he said.

I contacted the Yowah General Store a few days later and wasn’t able to speak to Rick, but staff there confirmed the story and stated that, as far as they were aware, no fish had been found on roofs, in gutters on in any location that would have suggested an aerial source.

Queensland Museum ichthyologist, Jeff Johnson, identified the Yowah fish as the spangled perch (Leiopotherapon unicolor) and that identification gives a major clue to the source of the fish. In an earlier Australian case I covered in Fortean Times, Jeff had written to me on the curious habits of the Spangled Perch (aka “Spangled Grunter”), one of the most widespread and common freshwater fish species in Australia.

Jeff advised:

“When it (a reported fish fall) involves Spangled Perch, by far the most often reason is this species has an incredible urge to disperse and breed when large rain events occur. They may have been trapped for years in cramped waterholes, dams, rivers, or creeks and will seize the opportunity to furiously swim up temporary flows during heavy rain in a desperate attempt to disperse. This often leads them many miles up blind gullies, wheel tracks, or just meandering overland flows and when the rain eases many are left stranded in places seemingly impossible to reach from the nearest permanent water. Of course very few residents are actually out in the teeming rain to see this happening.”

Check the photos that Rick posted. One shows a live fish on what appears to be a roadway. These flat surfaces can occasionally support high temporary water flows linking existing hidden populations of Spangled Perch with their final resting place – in this case, just outside the Yowah General Store.

While the Yowah case appears once again appears to be bolting Grunters with an urge to merge, there are others cases that can’t be that easily explained.

While investigating the Yowah fall, I came across an interesting Facebook comment made on a page linked to the incident. A few days later I was talking to Queensland farmer Wayne Vickers. Wayne owns a farm just north of Mirani, around 30km west of Mackay. On the morning of the 23rd November, 2019, he had started spraying a recently planted corn crop when he came across the pile of fish shown in the photo below.

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The fish. Copyright: Wayne Vickers.

The photos are fairly startling, with a pile of fair-sized fish sitting on a the top of a tractor tyre print.

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Copyright: Wayne Vickers.

There had been a light fall of rain (20mm) two days earlier, but it was no deluge. It’s clear from the state of the paddock that there had not been a significant amount of water flow from the storm. The closest creek was 200 metres away, but there was a 10 metre drop between the paddock and the creek. The storm hadn’t released enough water to generate the surface flow that drive fish dispersal in other cases I’ve investigated.

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The clear drop from the paddock at the top of picture to the creek 200 metres away. Copyright Wayne Vickers.

I sent Wayne’s pictures and his story to Jeff Johnson, who quickly responded:

“In this case, the species involved are nearly all Bony Bream, except for just one Spangled Perch in the foreground. I can confidently rule out overland travel – bony bream are not prone to this behaviour and there has clearly been insufficient rain to provide the means for it to occur. The 20 mm fall reported and the lack of any significant wash in the surrounding soil supports this. I also agree with the farmer that the fish have not fallen out of the sky (via a waterspout, storm, tornado, or the like) as they are clearly grouped together in a tight bunch in one spot in the paddock. The fish are also relatively large, hence not as easily transported by this means. True rains of fishes usually involve relatively small fish that are dispersed far more sparsely over a wider area. In this case it appears more like a bucket full of fish was tossed on the ground. I would be keeping my eye out for a cheeky neighbour who had snuck in to the middle of the paddock during the night and dumped the fish there to cause a bit of controversy.”

A prank?

Well, that may be so. I don’t see any footprints in the soil and no neighbour has yet owned up to the joke. The Mirani case is a puzzling one, so it gets filed in the ‘Maybe’ file – for now, anyway.

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