Many times in conservation, the study of something doesn’t happen until it’s too late. People often work to protect something as a reaction to data that comes in saying it is in danger. In the latest episode of SeaLegacy | The Voyage, Sony Artisan Andy Mann is trying to capture photo and video of the sardine bait balls in Magdalena Bay now, to be proactive in sharing their integral part to the food chain. The marine ecosystems work as one, and Mann says it’s important to look at the big picture to protect both coasts. “It’s a holistic view, so we’re trying to tell a holistic story.”
Bait balls are stunning to behold in the water. As the individual fish within the bait ball swim quickly and erratically, they create a shimmering, silver ball that moves in unison, catching the light and reflecting in a mesmerizing display. Fundamentally a bait ball is a defense mechaniism to protect the fish from predators like dolphins, sharks, and seabirds. These predators often work together to encircle the bait ball and take turns attacking and feeding on the small fish within, creating a dynamic and dramatic display of nature in action.
Incredible to experience up close, the beauty of a bait ball lies in its ability to create a captivating natural spectacle that showcases the interconnectedness and complexity of life in the ocean.
See the SeaLegacy team ventures to the deep to get footage of one of the ocean's most alluring, mesmerizing and vital natural spectacles.
Why are sardines the connecting puzzle piece to almost everything? Because almost everything eats them. “Biologically speaking, the biomass of sardines is huge here,” Mann explains. “For the local economy, the fishing industries are mostly all sardine industries. That’s what brings in the marlin, that’s what brings in the tuna, which brings in the recreational fishing communities, the tourism. They’re the cornerstone of the marine ecosystem.”
Filming the bait balls of sardines off Magdalena Bay is no easy task – it requires a very long ride to the open ocean on a small boat. Mann wasn’t exactly expecting to just jump in the water offshore into a bait ball of sardines, but he couldn’t anticipate the quiet out in the open water and the patience and luck he would have to have in that quiet.
“There isn’t really a lot to do in the middle of the ocean,” Mann explains. “You’re just sitting in a panga looking at blue water. It’s a lot of just staring out in the distance, a lot of just fingers crossed, a lot of hope. You just have to be 80% lucky, and you just have to be 20% patient.”
Being out in the open ocean with so much quiet can give off that sense of emptiness, but it’s incredible to think of the fact that the high seas are actually one of the richest, most diverse ecosystems in the world that we know very little about. “And that’s what makes it exciting,” says Mann, “That’s what makes it challenging. You can be out there just watching the clock, nothing happening, and then boom, one of the biggest wildlife events you’ll ever see will happen right next to you.”
For several days while trying to film, Mann had a very difficult time capturing the moving bait balls because they were moving so fast. Add in the weather challenges approaching the area, and Mann had minimal time left to successfully film them. He set out with no hopes on the final day when birds and dolphins started heading toward something. Mann jumped in to witness what he calls one of the coolest wildlife events of his life: A stationary bait ball, exactly what he came to shoot.
“This was a bait ball of mackerel, and there were thousands of bonito tuna. It was like a ballet. Just the mackerel and the bait ball itself was this orchestrated, beautiful event. And to see this giant school of bonito tuna come up and feed. The sea lions were there, the marlins showed up. It was just this spectacle. And within like five minutes it was a sea of sparkles. It was nothing but scales floating to the bottom. Everything left, there wasn’t a bird in sight. They all left.
He continues, “Just to witness the ocean that alive and that abundant is a sight to behold. These are ecosystems that are so connected – from the birds, to the sardines that come out of the bay, to the tuna that come up from the depths of the ocean – they all meet in one spot, and that’s right here in Mag Bay during this bait ball run.”
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