* An Essay on Sardine Bait balls

Calm is the sea, whose surface is a large piece of glass that mirrors the outlook of the mighty skies above. Beneath the thin blue line lies a lot; fine fleshy fishes living in schools, their hungry predatory friends and the lurking shadows of large fishing nets.

     A great level of safety can be attained when sardines also known as forage fishes live in shoals rather than when they live as individuals. At the slightest sign of danger these fishes gather together and when all defensive measures fail, forming a 10-20-metre-diameter bait ball becomes their last choice of defence. With the speed at which they spin and the dazzling effect their silvery bodies cause, it is difficult for any of them to be singled out for lunch. Despite all their defensive gestures; predators such as swordfishes, dolphins and whales still get through.

     As much as bait balls can be made ineffective for the sardines by their predators, it can also be intentionally triggered by the predators it’s meant to shield them from. A bait ball in its own right is as obvious as the sun. It brings just a single thought to the mind of the predators which is ‘Dear Lunch, thank you for notifying me of your shiny presence.’ This leads to the saying ‘smart preys, smart hunters.’

     At the sight of a bait ball, a sword fish is a master fencer. It dives it’s way with great velocity through the massive rotating ball, coming out at the other end to feast on fishes it stunned or killed with its long bill.

     A dolphin can succeed in scattering a bait ball thereby driving the fishes to shallow parts of the sea where it makes the water around them murky. The sardines won’t want to swim through the muddy water, so they sail out of it only to land in the mouth of waiting dolphins that make a meal out of them.

     The humpback whale understands well that a school of sardines fear bubbles a lot. This massive mammal dives below the charging shoal and blow out a curtain of bubbles which trap the fishes. Once that is done, a group of whales ascend together towards the bubbles and gulp large amounts of fishes at once.

     To a school of small fishes, gannets are skilled hunters that plunge into the cold sea water, only to have a sardine or two plunge into the clutch of their beaks. Out they fly with their catch to have a decent meal of seafood by the beach.The fact can’t be denied that cape gannets are as friendly as the other predators small fishes have.

     On some days one might find the life of sardines interesting, but to these forage fishes living in the epipelagic zone of the ocean, nature is not a very fair fellow. Life as a fish at the bottom of the food chain is nothing but bitter-sweet, more like a movie with a tragic ending.


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