The Time Bloodsucking Fish Rained From the Sky in Alaska

It started with a single fish in a parking lot. One day in 2015, employees of the Value Village in Fairbanks, Alaska, were alerted to the presence of a live fish just outside the store. The creepy, eel-like creature had just appeared, as though it had fallen out of the sky. The employees put the 15-inch-long fish in a bucket of water and called the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G).

That alone would have made it a strange week for Fairbanks. But the phone at the ADF&G kept ringing. Residents called in sightings of three more fish out of water, including one that materialized on somebody’s lawn.

ADF&G identified the stray fish as Arctic lampreys, a long, parasitic fish boasting terrifying rings of teeth, which it uses to latch on to a salmon, trout, or shark and suck out its prey's blood and body fluids. 

Arctic lampreys are common in Alaska waters. They’re less common on land. The fish that turned up that week all bore gashes in their sides, suggesting they’d been picked up by gulls, then dropped once the birds were aloft. The city of Fairbanks is located on a river, and this kind of thing has happened there before. It’s almost surprising that it doesn’t happen more often. 

Elsewhere in the world, it does. Stories of freak rains of fish (and sometimes frogs) have persisted for millennia, beginning with Pliny the Elder. Every two years or so, it seems, there’s a plague of airborne fish somewhere in the world. In the last ten years alone, slimy deluges have afflicted citizens of India, Japan, Australia, Hungary, the Philippines, and Ireland.

All of these storms were a bit more substantial* than the drizzle in Fairbanks, sometimes delivering hundreds of live or dead animals. Gulls can’t be to blame for events of that scale. So what is?

The most viable theory at the moment is that these rains are exactly what they resemble: weather. If a tornado or big rainstorm passes over a body of water, it could conceivably suck up some of the pond or river—and the animals that live there with it. As the waterspout passes over land, it dissipates, leaving frogs in the fields or fish at the front door.

However, scientists are not totally satisfied with this theory. For one thing, nobody has ever seen it happen. The fish just seem to appear when we’re not looking. For another, why would a waterspout suck up just one species? There aren’t rains of fish and crabs and pondweed. It’s just fish, and only one kind, at that. 

So the mystery remains. All we can do is keep our eyes open and our umbrellas handy.

*With the exception of Ireland, which allegedly experienced a momentary shower consisting of a single lamprey.

All photographs courtesy of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game

Goat Your Own Way: In North Wales, a Herd of Goats Is Taking Advantage of the Empty Streets

"We gon' run this town tonight!" —These goats, probably.
"We gon' run this town tonight!" —These goats, probably.
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

While residents stay indoors to prevent the spread of coronavirus, the deserted streets and flower gardens of Llandudno, Wales, have become a playground for a people-shy herd of wild Kashmir goats.

The animals live on the Great Orme, a nearby stretch of rocky limestone land that juts out over the Irish Sea, and they’re known to sojourn in Llandudno around this time when rainy or windy weather makes their high-ground home more treacherous than usual. This year, however, the goats are being especially adventurous.

“They are curious, goats are, and I think they are wondering what's going on like everybody else,” town councilor Carol Marubbi told BBC News. “There isn't anyone else around, so they probably decided they may as well take over.”

The goats have spent their jaunt balancing atop stone walls, trotting through the town center, and munching on flowers and hedges in people’s yards. But nobody seems to mind—Marubbi told BBC News that the locals are proud of the animals and happy to watch them gallivant through the streets from their windows.

While the herd has been living on the Great Orme for more than a century, the goats aren’t native to the region. According to Llandudno’s website, Squire Christopher Tower bought two goats from a large herd in France that had been imported from Kashmir, India. He then used them to breed his own herd in England. Sometime during the 18th century, he gifted two of them to King George IV, who developed another herd at Windsor. The goats’ wool was used to produce cashmere shawls, which became particularly popular during Queen Victoria’s reign in the mid-19th century. She then gave two goats to Major General Sir Savage Mostyn, who took them to his family estate, Gloddaeth Hall, in Llandudno.

It’s unclear why or how they were eventually let loose on the Great Orme, but they managed to acclimate to their new environment and thrive in the northern wilderness.

Today, there are more than 120 goats in the herd, and it certainly looks like they’re enjoying their all-inclusive vacation.

[h/t BBC News]

The Tiger Who Came to Tea … In the Middle of Rural Yorkshire

If you lived in Holmfirth, England, in the 1940s, there's a good chance you would've found a tiger like this one wandering around town.
If you lived in Holmfirth, England, in the 1940s, there's a good chance you would've found a tiger like this one wandering around town.
photoguru81/iStock via Getty Images

According to the World Wildlife Fund, there are more tigers in captivity than there are in the wild. This is especially true in the United States, where backyard zoos and cub petting operations are successful—if controversial—businesses. Big cat ownership is more heavily regulated in the UK than it is in the U.S., but that wasn’t always the case. More than 70 years ago, there was at least one pet tiger living in England.

To the people of Britain, Holmfirth, 20 miles outside of Manchester, is probably best known as the picturesque setting of Last of the Summer Wine, the BBC show that ran for a staggering 37 years from 1973 to 2010 and is now appropriately credited as being the world’s longest running sitcom. But back in the early 1940s, the village was known locally as the home of Fenella the Holmfirth Tiger.

Fenella’s story actually begins more than 8000 miles away in South Africa, where she was adopted by a family of circus performers and acrobats from Yorkshire, the Overends, in the late 1930s. While touring South Africa with a traveling circus in 1939, the Overend family was offered two newborn circus tiger cubs to rear and eventually incorporate into their act. One of the cubs died barely a week later, but the other—given the name Fenella, or “Feney” for short—survived.

The Overends were forced to return to England after the outbreak of the Second World War. They took Fenella home with them to live (albeit after a brief stay in quarantine) in the back garden of their house in Holmfirth. Although she had a specially built hut and enclosure, the tiger eventually began spending just as much time in the family house as she did in the garden, and according to her owners, soon became extraordinarily tame.

The family would take her for walks through the village, including past the local primary school, where she became a firm favorite among the pupils. When the local council began to raise questions over just how tame Fenella really was, the sight of her walking calmly while being petted by all the schoolchildren as they returned from their lunch break was all it took to quash their worries.

Holmfirth viewed from the cemetery
Holmfirth in the 21st century, with nary a tiger in sight.
Tim Green, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Fenella was sometimes permitted to run in the fields around the village, where she reportedly made friends with a local cart horse—which is surprising, given she was raised on a diet of horse meat and fish (fish and chips were one of her favorite treats). She apparently also had a fondness for climbing trees to take a nap, and supposedly had a habit of dropping down from the branches and, fairly understandably, surprising passersby. But soon the sight of a fully grown 9-foot Sumatran tigress casually idling her way through the village’s cobbled streets became the norm for the people of Holmfirth.

Fenella was intended to be a performing tiger. Similar to the cub petting operations that still exist in the U.S., visitors could pay sixpence to sit and pet her while the family was on tour. She was also worked into the family’s circus performances by staging a mock wrestling match with her owner. But though the Overends put the big cat to work, they considered her a beloved family pet rather than just another part of their act.

Sadly, Fenella died of a kidney infection during one of the family’s tours in 1950 when she was just over 10 years old. She was buried in the neighbor’s garden, which was said to be one of her favorite hunting grounds. Fenella is still remembered fondly in and around Holmfirth. In 2016, she was a highlight of the Holmfirth Arts Festival, which celebrated the cat’s life with an exhibition of photographs and archival footage of her and the Overend family. Exotic pets might not have remained as popular in the UK as they once were, but Fenella’s popularity at least remains intact.

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