By Daniel Gomez
The Principia tennis team encountered a strange sight and a pungent odor when they arrived at practice early in September: dead, rotting fish. Three small fish were found at Davis, the Science Center, and McVay; five more were dotted across the outdoor courts.
“This is really weird,” said Rusty Jones, head coach of the men’s tennis team, adding that he’s never seen anything like it in his five years of working for Principia. Jones believes that this mystery and its oddity could lead to a bigger investigation, because now he wants to know where these small, smelly fish came from.
The courts were washed by flex crew workers the day before, and no fish were reported. By the next day, however, the campus was littered with fish. Senior Greg Sovie, tennis team captain, said, “This is my senior year and I have never seen anything like this…this is weird and awful.” The tennis team members were intrigued by the mystery, but were overall uncomfortable with the situation due to its uncommon (and gross) nature.
Steve Johnson from the Facilities Department echoed Jones. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” he added, after cleaning up the fish around the tennis courts, the Voney parking lot, and the chapel that morning. Johnson’s best guess is that the fish came from the Mississippi River after being dropped on campus by some kind of bird.
“The smell of the fish was very strong…[even though] they weren’t bigger than 4 inches,” said Johnson. The lack of a concrete explanation prompted The Pilot to dig deeper into this fishy conundrum.
The Pilot checked with Lowrey House to be sure the fish carcasses weren’t part of a prank; all responses suggest that Lowrey had nothing to do with it.
Scott Eckert, a biology professor at Principia, spoke to the possibility that a great blue heron caught the fish from the Mississippi River and dropped some while flying over campus. “At the beginning of every semester we see a lot of great blue herons flying across the state,” Eckert said. “When we go down to Elsah we can see that there are quite a few of them catching fish down there. We do have a number of fish-eating birds who fly over the campus.” This particular theory could explain the randomness of the locations.
Eckert also suggested the fish could have been left over from some kind of project, and then an animal, such as a raccoon, could have spread them around campus. Eckert leans toward the bird explanation, however. “The fact that they were distributed all across campus suggests that they were dropped from the air,” he said.
Unfortunately, the truth behind this wet-and-wild mystery still eludes us. All we can do is try to catch the animal culprit in the act. We recommend carrying an umbrella with you, though.