Bait balls are an incredible sight for scuba divers. They are nature's way of helping small fish avoid predators. Small fish school tightly to confuse larger fish and sea lions if they cannot hide in vegetation or coral. The enormous mass of moving, silvery bodies makes it impossible for predators to track the movements of individual fish. This makes it hard for a predator to follow and capture one specific fish. A bait ball is a last ditch effort of the smaller fish to evade a larger animal. They large school provides more eyes to watch for an ambush and any reaction to a threat will be perceived by all of the other fish in the bait ball. They will move rapidly away from any threat. But many predatory fish, mammals, and birds have developed sophisticated methods of attack that allow them to successfully feed on the fish within the bait balls. Swordfish slash through bait balls at high speed, slicing or stunning the prey. Whales lunge feed by charging and opening their mouths as they reach the school. Sea lions herd the fish to the surface and work together to charge through the dense ball of fish. These divers saw the dark cloud of salemas approaching and they were mesmerized by the beauty of the swarm as it engulfed them. The fish in these swarms are so densely packed that they block most of the light and it is almost too dark for a scuba diver to see around them. The diver with the camera is Solon Intriago, a seasoned scuba guide with more than 30 years of experience and almost 15,000 dives under his belt. He shows us here what happens when air bubbles are released into the bait ball from beneath. The fish move out of the way as if they don't want the bubbles to touch them. They quickly close in again, engulfing the divers once more. The divers soon learned why the salemas had formed the bait ball when they saw a sea lion hunting at the edge of the school. The beauty and wonder of the underwater world has to be seen to be believed. These scuba divers were overjoyed to spend this time surrounded by such a gigantic school of fish.
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