Bonaire, Where It is Good to be at the Top of the Food Chain

 

Dec 13, 2017

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The initial swarms

 

A boat left the mooring in front of us.  Just after it headed out, we started seeing multiple small swarms of fish “boiling” between us and Windancer 4. At first, we thought the boat had dumped their holding tanks prematurely, to be able to attract that many fish.  All of a sudden, the schools formed into two huge bait balls and split themselves between the two catamarans.  It was crazy to watch as the masses moved underneath the boats.  The two inch long minnows were pushed up in a wave onto the back sugar scoops.

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We decided to don our snorkel gear and jump in the water to watch the show.  The minnows  further split themselves between the two hulls.   Then, we saw what was chasing them, another huge swarm of 8 inch long Bigeye Scad.

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We watched as both masses danced back and forth, one being the predator and one being the prey.  It didn’t take long for the scad to start annihilating  the thousands of minnows, leaving tiny fish scales falling like confetti in the water.  Everywhere you looked, there were silver sparkles, tinkling down to the reef fish below. (And, of course, causing all kinds of particulate spots in the pictures.)  Funny, we noticed that the schools of Sergeant Majors and Creole Wrasses that normally hang out under our boat, were nowhere to be seen.

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After a bit, smaller swarms of Bar Jacks and Yellow Snappers came along, interrupting the Bigeyes’ feeding frenzy.  The Bigeyes were then schooling and getting out of the way of the larger fish. After about 20 minutes of watching the dance to the death, four foot long Tarpons showed up.

P1080357 P1080384 At one point, we had 12 of them.  These guys at first, swam slowly around and around, checking out the action and calculating the best approach.   All of a sudden, they would shoot like arrows into the swarms, gulping up mouthfuls of minnows.  They started circling faster and faster.  You could hear their snouts and bodies thumping against our hulls, getting too close, for maximum effect.

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If the minnows were freaked out before, they were now even more frantic.  We could feel them brushing against us as they split and reformed schools all around us and Uno Mas, trying to evade the predators.  It was an amazing sight to watch.  After 30-45 minutes of watching the show, Angie started feeling bad for the minnows.  By the end, there were few left.

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At a later point, underneath our dinghy, still hanging off the davits on the back of Uno Mas, the water was still churning with the Tarpons’ bodies barely breaking the water’s surface, still scooping away.  At that point, we thought it was good for us to be seen as the next biggest fish in the sea, as long as nothing else came out of the deep dark blue water from behind us.  After dwelling on this thought for a bit, we decided to exit the water and see if we got any good photo shots that could depict what we just witnessed.  No need to part of the natural selection cycle going on underneath us.

Friends snorkeled by to watch.  We offered them beers and free admission to the show.

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On a side note, if we see something like this again, we need to immediately shut off our generator, if it is running.  We had a few minnows/guts get sucked up into our intake.  Thankfully, Mark heard the change in pitch in the generator and quickly shut it down.  It did not overheat, which is a very good thing!

Also, for a few days afterwards, we had fish remains in our toilet intake line.  It stunk like death. No amount of lemongrass oil could cover the stench. The smell would make Angie nauseous as she had to stand there and pump the head 20 times, each time she used the bathroom.  She found it best to stick her head in her armpit to breathe while waiting for the toilet water to go down. (She is thankful for deodorant!) Windancer solved their smell problem with back flushing with fresh water and vinegar. We were gearing up to head to the hardware store, in order to install a back flush system for the intake lines as well.  Somehow, we think we may need this again in the future.  However, the smell corrected itself, just as we were getting organized to head to town.  Angie had to use the head “one last time” before the half hour walk.  We must have flushed enough to get all of the carnage out.  Smell problem resolved.  We will work on that back flush system another time.

On a final note, all of the fish bumping up against our hulls cleaned the growth off of the bottom of the boat in most areas.  Angie’s job of cleaning the upper parts of the hulls was postponed until the next time!

 

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