During the summer of 1983 I was working in Exmouth. I became friends with one of my co-workers there, a Mrs Rowley, and I often used to visit her at her home where I would stay for an evening meal with her and her two young daughters. One early evening in July the elder of the two girls, who must have been about twelve came running in, greatly excited to tell me that there were three “horrid snakes” in the garden. Replete from an excellent meal, her mother and I wandered out into the garden expecting to find that the girls had discovered a nest of slow-worms, or perhaps grass-snakes. Much to our surprise, there, arranged neatly on the lawn in an almost perfect triangle were three dead, and very dessicated pipe fish.
Several species of pipefish (peculiar creatures closely related to seahorses) live in British waters and they are not particularly rare beasts, but they are one of the last things that one expects to find strewn neatly across someone`s lawn in the midst of comfortable suburbia. Mysterious falls of living creatures (sometimes called fafrotskies – an acronym meanining Falls of Anomalous Fish Right Out of The SKIES) are a well known phenomenon and one which which was particularly dear to Charles Fort. Fort was an American philosopher of nearly a century ago who dedicated his life to cataloguing unexplained phenomena. Since his death the adjective Fortean has been coined to describe the study of such things.
Fort had several bizarre and gloriously imaginative theories to explain such strange falls from the heavens. His most imaginative idea was the concept of what he called the 'Super-Sargasso Sea'. Just as the Sargasso Sea in the North Atlantic is supposed to be full of shipwrecks and all manner of objects caught up in its gulfweed, so the 'Super-Sargasso Sea' might be a repository for terrestrial and extra-terrestrial matter high above the earth's surface. Sometimes the sea would suck things up; at other times it would spew them back down to earth. Other explanations for such phenomena are numerous, but Dr Mike Dash calmly and logically manages to demolish the most widely accepted of them:
“........Another explanation is often advanced to account for the fall of frogs and fishes: the hapless animals were scooped up from a river or a pond by a passing waterspout, and deposited later some way off. This theory has something to recommend it: for one thing it has long been recognised that a number of falls really are caused by waterspouts. A whirlwind dropped fish at Quirindi, New South Wales, in November 1913, and fish fell from a waterspout in Louisiana in June 1921. Nevertheless, the waterspout hypothesis has weaknesses. There do not seem to be any accounts of rains of tadpoles, nor of smelly mud, broken bottles, old bicycles and the rest of the detritus that normally lurks in ponds alongside the frogs and the fish.”
If the Celestial Sargasso Sea is an inate part of the way things are, then surely the”my” pipefish would not have been dried and dessicated when we found them - they would have been fresh and possibly even still alive. The children had been playing in the garden all afternoon and were adamant that they had not been there earlier.
The same would seem to be the case if they had been transported there by virtue of a mysterious waterspout. Firstly, there had been no rain for days, and secondly, even if there had been an isolated shower which had managed to evade the detection of both us and the metereological Office, and even if this reticent rainstorm had contained a number of fish, then why were both the fish and the grass around them as dry as a bone?
The last theory that anyone has come up with is that the fish could have been dropped into my friend`s garden by a passing seabird. My only answer to that is that if one is forced to hypothesize a mysterious flying piscivorous predator that lived exclusively on dried and dessicated fish then we would be faced with a putative phenomenon far more bizarre than the one that we are actually examining.
Like so much in this world, fafrotskies in general, fish falls in particular and my experience with the three pipe fish specifically are just part of the way things are, and are presently completely inexplicable. The world is, after all, a very strange place.