swimming in food

m. werneburg, 2000.02.18

Once upon a time in Fiji, I spotted a strange dark spot in the water, while walking on the beach. By dark, I don't mean that it was oily or black or inky... It was just dark. Like the way that paper gets dark when it's greasy. The water was actually *more* transparent than usual, or so it seemed from a distance.

Deciding that it warranted a closer look, I clamped on the goggles and waded in.

I soon found myself surrounded by fish. Thousands of small translucent fish, maybe fifteen centimeters long and swimming in a neat circle. The filled the water from the bed to the surface, and while they didn't seem to mind my presence, they kept a healthy distance, too.

As I bobbed there, calmly breathing on my snorkel, it occurred to me that these fish were sure acting strangely. They'd just swim around in circles, and didn't seem to be feeding or mating or even resting. It was almost as if... well, it was almost as if they were metaphorically circling the wagons. As if sensing some threat.

This thought caused me to glance around beyond the big ball of fish that surrounded me. And sure enough, I spotted it. A baracuda was hovering near the water's surface, still and menacing. It was clearly itching to attack, and had likely been put off by my presence. It sidled closer as I did nothing.

Then it occurred to me that I'd seen footage of this kind of ball of fish, before. And in that footage, I'd seen a shark blindly charging into the ball, mouth agape. I was swimming among what they called bait fish, in what they called a feed ball!

I got the hell out of there.