The global catalogue of tsunami events is examined to determine if transient variations in tsunami rates are consistent with a Poisson process commonly assumed for tsunami hazard assessments. The primary data analyzed are tsunamis with maximum sizes >1 m. The record of these tsunamis appears to be complete since approximately 1890. A secondary data set of tsunamis >0.1 m is also analyzed that appears to be complete since approximately 1960. Various kernel density estimates used to determine the rate distribution with time indicate a prominent rate change in global tsunamis during the mid-1990s. Less prominent rate changes occur in the early- and mid-20th century. To determine whether these rate fluctuations are anomalous, the distribution of annual event numbers for the tsunami catalogue is compared to Poisson and negative binomial distributions, the latter of which includes the effects of temporal clustering. Compared to a Poisson distribution, the negative binomial distribution model provides a consistent fit to tsunami event numbers for the >1 m data set, but the Poisson null hypothesis cannot be falsified for the shorter duration >0.1 m data set. Temporal clustering of tsunami sources is also indicated by the distribution of interevent times for both data sets. Tsunami event clusters consist only of two to four events, in contrast to protracted sequences of earthquakes that make up foreshock–main shock–aftershock sequences. From past studies of seismicity, it is likely that there is a physical triggering mechanism responsible for events within the tsunami source ‘mini-clusters’. In conclusion, prominent transient rate increases in the occurrence of global tsunamis appear to be caused by temporal grouping of geographically distinct mini-clusters, in addition to the random preferential location of global M >7 earthquakes along offshore fault zones.