So what makes a school of mullet swim at a frantic pace and jump out of the water? Well, I might have one answer.

It was a beautiful September afternoon at Reef Road in Palm Beach, Florida that saw glassy four foot waves rolling in and a plethora of surfers maneuvering to ride them. The conditions were excellent for water photography and with water housing in hand and fins on feet I swam out to capture some of the action.

As the afternoon rolled on I began to notice large black shadows moving underneath the surface of the water, which I immediately took to be large schools of fish. This is a common site along the shores of South Florida during the spring and fall as schools of fish migrate up and down the east coast of the United States. The point being, I wasn’t worried.

Suddenly however the black shadows start moving erratically and quickly and then out of the depth of the shadow large numbers of fish (mullet in this case) begin jumping out of the water; this is something they’re not normally known to do unless of course they’re being chased by large predatory fish. It could be snook, tarpon, jacks and even sharks that are hungry for mullet. I had no clue what spooked the mullets but suddenly I was surrounded by this frenzy.

I called out to the surfers to come lend me a surfboard to float on but for some reason non came. It was literally raining mullets all around me and there was nothing I could do. Fortunately my instincts to photograph this spectacle took over and thus the shot you see here, which I must admit is rather rare. Still, I had no idea what was making the mullet behave so erratic. However at one point I submerged my camera completely under the water and pointed it downward beneath my legs and snapped a photograph expecting to see more mullets in the image.

That evening I downloaded the images to my computer and took a quick glance at them. It was then that the answer to the original question came to light. In the one frame where I poked the camera underneath me and snapped the shutter I saw a large school of mullet with a big hole in the middle of them and in that hole swam a six foot bull shark. He was no more than five feet away, totally unbeknownst to me but not to the mullets and obviously not to the surfers that fail to come and lend me a board!

Technical details:

  • Nikon D3 DSLR
  • Nikkor 14mm f/2.8D lens
  • SPL splash water housing
  • Exposure set at 1/500 second with an aperture of f/4.5 and the ISO set at 200