A new and interesting “fish fall” report comes out of Oroville, California this week. News stories conflict about what actually happened but here is the best report from a local news team.
According to witnesses at the Stanford Avenue Elementary school in Oroville, just before noon, teachers and children noticed the playground area was strewn with small dead fish. The school administration had a person check the roof to determine if the fish had fallen and he reported “dozens” on the roof. But no one saw the fish actually fall. The reporter for this story followed up with the nearby fish hatchery who said they had no delivery of fish that could account for it. But they believed it was a type of carp found in the bay, but not the nearby Feather River. So how the fish got there remains mysterious. But there are curious problems with this story that often crop up with such bizarre reports.
I could find no reference that any samples were collected to determine the type of fish. But they do not seem to be unusual and there are many potential sources for the fish – the Oroville reservoir, rivers, bays and streams, and a local hatchery.
The timing of the event is unclear. The on-scene report says:
It started out a typical Tuesday at Stanford Avenue Elementary school … then just before noon, the campus was suddenly littered with fish.
A later report from the same team says it must have happened overnight because staff noticed it Tuesday morning. And, there is this curious bit:
But then, it started to rain fish again during school classes and recess, according to the schools librarian, Rachael Thompson.
No one got a video. There were no security cameras that report capturing anything odd. And the neighbors haven’t contributed any corroboration in public. It’s explicitly noted by the on-scene reporter that no one saw them fall. So the report that it rained fish twice may be a misquote or misunderstanding. These mistakes get propagated leading people to assume something was observed when it wasn’t.
Some reporting automatically linked in the above story to a “cloud” that passed over. This also looks to be an assumption. There is no documentation for any storm event strong enough to do this. A Sacramento meteorologist says that there were some clouds and possible thunderstorms during this time that might account for some surface fish being blown a half-mile or so to the east from their water source. But this is still speculation. (Unfortunately, this station’s radar was out so they have no record of precipitation.)
So, it is NOT clear when this exactly happened. The photographs are not even good and there was no available documentation of the extent of the fish fall. I’ve seen rumors that fish were found around the area, just not on the school campus, but this is all uncertain. The fish on the grass are in one piece but it’s odd that fish that landed on the hard surfaces are relatively intact. Could they have been frozen? Or was the fall not that far?
I’m not convinced by the wind/waterspout idea of moving fish. It’s never been documented well enough to determine this mechanism really works. And, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. (I’d love to see it demonstrated. If you know of this type of demo, please write to the editor.) Other explanations that have undoubtedly occurred elsewhere among the hundreds of similar reports include fish falling out of transport vehicles, fish swimming across land during flooding rains, birds dropping fish while flying. In this case, with the observation (though unchecked, but this seems to be legit) that fish were actually on the roof, it does seem that they fell from the air. There were too many (over 60) to reasonably conclude they were dropped by birds. So we are left with a prank (very unlikely), that the fish fell from a stocking plane (yes, they do this) or that some atmospheric mechanism really did transport the fish up and then drop them.
It’s a shame we don’t have a more careful examination of these events. Instead, we have sloppy collections of eyewitness accounts. I’d be out there mapping and taking samples and measuring. It would help to get to the bottom of this very Fortean occurrence. I hope the Department of Fish and Wildlife office can provide some additional followup to this story. I just don’t want to believe, I want to know.
Thanks to Paul Cropper on Group of Fort for tip.
UPDATE: Factors seem to point towards a prank. First, why aren’t the fish splattered if they fell from a height? Second, I still have no confirmation from nearby properties. The eyewitness testimony is still iffy, and the waterspout theory, touted by more than one meteorologist as being “plausible,” remains unfounded and implausible. So this story still stinks.
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