In the 19th century, a rare natural phenomenon occurred in Singapore.
It rained fish.
The curious incident was documented by French naturalist, Francis de Castelnau, who happened to be residing in Singapore when it happened.
De Castelnau served as the French consul for Siam from 1848 to 1862, and was in the Southeast Asian region during that period.
It was February 1861.
In a translated account, De Castelnau recorded that there was an earthquake in the region followed by tremendous rain on Singapore for three days on February 20, 21 and 26.
When the rain stopped, he noticed people picking fish up from the rain puddles. Some of the locals also told him that the fish fell from heaven:
“When the sun came out again I saw members of Malays and Chinese filling their baskets with fish contained in the pools formed by the rain. They told me the fish has ’fallen from heaven,’ and three days later, when the pools were all dried up, there were still many dead fish lying about."
He identified the fish to be a species called the Clarias batrachus or Walking catfish. It is the most common freshwater catfish, and the species is native to Singapore.
De Castelnau also noted that some fish were in his courtyard, and there was no other plausible reason for how they could have gotten there:
"As they lay in my courtyard, which is surrounded by a wall, they could not have been brought in by the overflowing of a torrent, nor is there any considerable one in the neighborhood. The space covered by these fishes might be about fifty acres. They were very lively and seemed to be in good health.”
His conclusion? It had rained fish.
How did this happen?
De Castelnau suggests that a waterspout passing over some large river of Sumatra had drawn up the fish and carried them over to Singapore:
"Is it permissible to suppose that a waterspout, in passing over some large river of Sumatra, had drawn up the fish and carried them over? It is not without diffidence that I venture this hypothesis."
A waterspout is a column of water that occur when a type of cloud forms during thunderstorms, creating low-pressure pockets.
These waterspouts may successfully suck fish and other small objects out of the water.
According to Science Line, even if the waterspout stops spinning, the fish in the cloud can be carried over land, buffeted up and down and around with the cloud’s winds until its currents no longer keep the flying fish in the atmosphere.
What results is fish rain.
Waterspouts are common in tropical waters and in recent years, have been spotted off Singapore several times.
However, given that fish rain is a relatively rare occurrence, incidents like these are few and far between.
Top photo adapted from NAS.