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Instant Fish Kill

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"This is my first bath in decades!"

In any visual work where a body of water is suddenly afflicted by something, be it a toxic shock, electricity, or even farts, frequently expect lots of dead fish to suddenly pop up on the surface as a display of its potency. If the character in question is hungry, this may be a way to find food. Almost always Played for Laughs. Otherwise, it usually serves as an expression of the power of whatever happened to the water.

Compare That Poor Plant. Canary in a Coal Mine could be seen as a more serious counterpart to this trope. Electrified Bathtub is a common way for this to happen. When used for comedy, this trope is usually facilitated by No Cartoon Fish.

Not related to killing someone with a fish, instantly or otherwise. That's Shamu Fu.



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    Film — Animated 
  • An iconic example in Shrek; in the film's opening set to "All Star" showing Shrek's daily routine, there's a scene where Shrek farts in the pond he's bathing in, causing some dead fish to float up. He then takes one of them, presumably for consumption.
  • Ice Age 4: Continental Drift: When Granny falls off the iceberg and has her "first bath in decades", an oily substance oozes off her and multiple dead fish and a shark suddenly pop up.
  • On The Simpsons Movie, a flashback has Homer taking Bart fishing, where he throws a bug zapper in the water, which causes all the fish to float up dead. Homer picks up a fish and tries to eat it, but gets shocked every time he bites into it.

    Film — Live Action 
  • In the first Azumi film, Azumi shows off her killing skills by hurling a rock into a pool. Several dead fishes float up to the surface a few seconds later.
  • Crocodile Dundee 2: The film opens with Mick in a small boat, smoking a cigarette before lighting a stick of dynamite, which he threw into the water. The blast causes multiple fish to surface, which he promptly begins to collect until he's interrupted by a police siren. The camera then pans back to reveal that he's dynamite fishing in New York Harbor.
  • Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019): When Godzilla and King Ghidorah get into a fight off the Mexican coast, Admiral Stenz decides to attack them with an Oxygen Destroyer missile. On top of crippling Godzilla, the weapon also kills hundreds of fish that subsequently float dead on the surface of the bay. The Stinger also has a local fisherman say that the Destroyer exterminated all of the local fauna and fishing has become impossible.
  • In Hope and Glory, the two children are trying to catch fish and having no luck, when an airplane drops a bomb in the lake they're fishing in (the film is set during WWII); suddenly, dozens of dead fish float up to the top of the pond, which the children take back home, much to the shock of their parents and grandparents.

  • In the first book of The Heir Chronicles, after Ellen Stephenson (secretly a warrior chosen by one wizard faction to serve as said faction's champion in an upcoming duel to the death between two warriors) finds out that her love interest Jack Swift (the titular 'heir' of that specific book) is in fact the warrior set to be the other wizard faction's champion (whom she'd been secretly sent to kill), she tries to scare him into leaving his neighborhood to avoid getting brought to the duel by the wizards by first poisoning a snowcone he'd bought and then knocking it into a nearby lake where he'll be able to get a clear view of the mass number of fish that die and float up to the surface because of the poison.
  • World War Z: Jesika says that she saw the other American refugees in rural Canada throwing in sticks of dynamite to cause all the fish to float to the surface, a major case of Idiot Ball that caused them to run out of food and resort to cannibalism in a matter of months.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Carnivàle: Ben Hawkins has the power to heal, but only by transferring life from one creature to another. Case in point; he takes his friend Gabriel into a lake and heals Gabriel's broken arm, causing dozens of fish to bob to the surface around them, dead.
  • Invoked in one entry in Jay Leno's Headlines, in which a newspaper article about a fishing contest notes that "the use of dynamite or other explosives is prohibited".
  • Married... with Children During the Bundys' three-part trip to England, Al takes a moment to soak his feet in a fountain. Almost immediately the fish inhabiting the fountain float to the surface, dead after exposure to Al's legendary foot stench.
  • This is part of Benton Fraser's Establishing Character Moment in Due South; Fraser is shown bringing a suspect into custody during the middle of a blizzard, and telling him "That's the last time you fish over the limit." When his superior starts criticizing him for his overzealous pursuit of such a petty crime, Fraser tells him that the suspect was using dynamite to blast fish out of a lake to the point where he was using a front-end loader to scoop out his haul; after Fraser caught and arrested the overfisher, he then donated the fish to local Inuit communities as supplies to help them get through the blizzard.
  • 1000 Ways to Die: One story revolves around an electrician taking up fishing to curb his Hair-Trigger Temper. When fishing with a rod doesn't work, he resorts to sticking a high voltage cable into the water which causes several fish to float up to the surface. Unfortunately, the electrician gets so excited that he accidentally falls into the metal part of his boat and is electrocuted to death.
  • In one episode of Stargate SG-1 O'neill and Maybourne get stranded on an alien planet. While O'neill is trying to fish Maybourne tosses a claymore mine in the river, causing O'neill to comment that he cheated.

  • The Epic Poem Biag ni Lam-ang (Life of Lam-ang) from Philippine Mythology tells a story of when Lam-ang bathed in the Amburayan River after accumulating so much dirt in battle that the fishes and other animals around him died. There's no ill effect to the women attending to him though.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • In a Calvin and Hobbes strip, Calvin tries blasting the fish out of a lake by throwing a large rock into the lake; he does so, but only succeeds in making a huge splash, getting him and Hobbes wet in the process. This annoys Hobbes, who tells Calvin that it was a good idea, they just didn't throw a large enough object into the lake...

    Video Games 
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: Using any part of the FUS RO DAH Shout on a body of water will cause all harvestable fish in it to float to the top dead.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: Link can shoot electric arrows, bomb arrows, or remote bombs at fish swimming in bodies of water, which causes large amounts to rise to the surface.
  • Star Wars: Battlefront: In the planet Kashyyyk battlefieldsnote  fish can be seen swimming in the water. Throwing a grenade or firing a rocket into the water will result in dead fishes floating to the surface.
  • Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People: At one point in Baddest of the Bands, Strong Bad has to pour bleach into a pond to frame the band Limozeen for being anti-environment. Upon doing so, dead fish float to the surface.

  • Wilde Life: A local witch immediately investigates when people find a lake full of stunned fish. The phenomenon turns out to be caused by a predatory serpentine monster who Was Once a Man.

    Western Animation 
  • The CIA fishing trip in American Dad! began with Bullock ordering attack helicopters to pass over the lake and unleash enough munitions to kill all fish inside, including Ariel.
  • The Dragon Prince: As a giant fish-like monster is chasing Rayla and Bait, Callum uses a lightning spell to electrify the water just in time, killing the monster and some fish.
  • In the opening sequence for Total Drama Island, after Owen farts on a fish in the water, it floats to the surface dead, then gets carried away by an eagle.

    Real Life 
  • Somewhat Truth in Television, as fish kills are unfortunately a very real problem that have become increasingly frequent in recent decades as water bodies worldwide face more than their fair share of human-caused threats. However, most fish kills, while still happening in a relatively short timespan, tend not to be as immediate as portrayed in media. However, underwater explosions can either immediately kill or at least disable a fish's swim bladders, causing them to float up. This is a tactic that has sadly become a common way of fishing in parts of the world.


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