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Fish rain from the sky at Lajamanu, NT

The outback community of Lajamanu says fish fell from the sky overnight Sunday. Supplied: Facebook.

Charmayne Allison, Liz Trevaskis, and Alex Barwick, Fish ‘rained from the sky’, outback community says, in freak weather event, ABC Alice Springs, 21 February 2023

Residents of a remote outback community have been left marvelling at the heavens as fish “rained from the sky” in a surprising, but not unheard of, weather event.

Locals in Lajamanu, a community 560 kilometres south-west of Katherine on the northern edge of the Tanami Desert, said they were stunned to see the fish drop during heavy rainfall.

“We’ve seen a big storm heading up to my community and we thought it was just rain,” Lajamanu local and Central Desert councillor Andrew Johnson Japanangka said.

“But when the rain started falling we’ve seen fish falling down as well.”

This is not the first time the strange weather event has swept through the community.

The same phenomenon occurred in Lajamanu in 2010, and was also reported in 2004 and as far back as 1974.

Weather experts believe incidents like these can be caused by strong updrafts, such as tornadoes, which suck water and fish from rivers and dump them hundreds of kilometres away.

Lajamanu residents say the fish were alive when they fell.(Supplied: Cyril Tasman).

Fish still alive when they fell

Mr Japanangka said the fish, which were at least “the size of two fingers”, were still alive when they fell.

“Some are still hanging around in the community in a puddle of water,” he said.

“Children are picking them up and keeping them in a bottle or a jar.”

While it is not the first time he had witnessed the phenomenon, Mr Japanangka said it never ceased to blow him away.

“We saw some free-falling down to the ground. And some falling onto the roof,” he said.

“It was the most amazing thing we’ve ever seen.

“I think it’s a blessing from the Lord.”

The remote community of Lajamanu says it’s not the first time this has happened.(ABC News: Stephanie Zillman).

Similar phenomenon 40 years ago

Alice Springs local Penny McDonald says she saw the aftermath of a similar phenomenon in the 1980s.(Suppled: Facebook).

“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.

“They were small fish and there were a lot of them around. It was just amazing.”

Alice Springs local Penny McDonald says she saw the aftermath of a similar phenomenon in the 1980s.(Suppled: Facebook)

Ms McDonald said she was reminiscing to a friend just days ago about the strange weather event.

“I said ‘did that really happen?’ And she said ‘yeah it did’, she remembered it as well.”

Lajamanu is not alone in experiencing the phenomenon.

In 2020 the Queensland town of Yowah, 950km west of Brisbane, also claimed it was raining fish.

Weather event ‘not unusual’

Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory curator of fishes, Michael Hammer, said he had investigated incidents like this before.

“Most of the time people arrive after the rain and see the fish scattered everywhere,” he said.

“And in that instance they’ve mostly just burst through with the flood that’s happened locally, from a little waterhole or something.

“But it certainly can’t rule out fish being caught up in little storms and then dropped in other places.”

Dr Michael Hammer says it’s not the first time this has happened.(ABC News: Gabrielle Lyons).

However, Mr Hammer said it was “not unusual” for fish to rain down alive, as long as they were not lifted too high and frozen mid-air.

“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.”

Call for citizen science

Queensland Museum ichthyologist Jeff Johnson said the fish which fell in Lajamanu were known as spangled perch, or spangled grunters — among the most common freshwater fish in Australia.

While he acknowledged this weather event was a “real thing”, he said it was rare for a fish of this size to rain down.

“They are a relatively large fish and they’re not able to be drawn up out of the water and held up in the sky for very long,” he said.

“But clearly that’s what has happened.”

Mr Hammer said the rates of phenomena like these were growing across Australia.

“I think next time it rains you just need to be out there with a net, catching the fish as they fall, and properly document it,” he said.

“Get some citizen science going and start to build a picture.”