OUTBACK FISH FALL
A small outback community is becoming Oz’s fish fall central
The small outback community of Lajamanu, 560km (348 miles) south-west of Katherine on the northern edge of the Tanami Desert in Australia, is gaining a reputation as fish fall central. It hit the news on 21 February after it was reported that fish had fallen there, but Lajamanu had also experienced documented rains of fish in 2010, 2004 and 1974, while after the latest event Penny McDonald from Alice Springs recalled experiencing a fall there in the mid-1980s. “I got up in the morning, I was working in the school at the time, and the dirt streets outside my home were covered in fish,” she said. The latest event was experienced by Central Desert councillor Andrew Johnson Japanangka, who lives in the settlement. “We’ve seen a big storm heading up to my community and we thought it was just rain, but when the rain started falling we’ve seen fish falling down as well,” he said, adding that the fish were at least “the size of two fingers” and still alive when they fell. “We saw some free-falling down to the ground. And some falling onto the roof. It was the most amazing thing we’ve ever seen; I think it’s a blessing from the Lord.” He added that “some are still hanging around in the community in a puddle of water, children are picking them up and keeping them in a bottle or a jar.”
The fish were exclusively spangled perch, also known as spangled grunters, one of Australia’s most common freshwater fish. Michael Hammer, curator of fishes at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, was sceptical that the fish had actually fallen and, having investigated previous falls, said: “Most of the time people arrive after the rain and see the fish scattered everywhere, and in that instance they’ve mostly just burst through with the flood that’s happened locally, from a little waterhole or something.” However, he added that he “certainly can’t rule out fish being caught up in little storms and then dropped in other places,” and went on to explain that it was “not unusual” for fish to rain down alive, as long as they were not lifted too high and frozen midair. “It just depends what the local weather patterns are,” he said. “What forces would be needed to lift them out of the waterhole specifically, and then up into the air, would be pretty interesting.” Hammer said that fish falls seemed to be becoming more common across Australia and felt there was an opportunity to document them: “Get some citizen science going and start to build a picture. I think next time it rains you just need to be out there with a net, catching the fish as they fall.”
Regular FT contributor and fish fall investigator Sharon Hill was less convinced, saying: “Although people say they saw the fish actually fall, I don’t believe it. People see what they want to believe. Some fish were alive when found, also indicating they didn’t fall from a substantial height,” and, in this case, Andrew Johnson Japanangka seems to be the only witness who says the fish actually fell. Hill also agrees with Hammer on the likelihood of a terrestrial distribution for the fish through ruts and other temporary channels. The fact that the settlement has had repeated “fish fall” events over the years, which is not usually the case, and all of these involved spangled perch, suggests that misperceptions and wishful thinking might well be involved. Hill also pours cold water on the idea of fish being lifted by storms, saying: “This has never been documented to have happened,” and that where fish have definitely been seen falling and it has been possible to trace their origin, they have been dropped by birds, either alive or partly digested, as was the case in the recent Texarkana fall that she investigated with Paul Cropper (see FT420:32-35). abc.net.au, 21 Feb; sciencetimes.com, 22 Feb; Weekly Weird News, 24 Feb 2023.