A Bluefish Blitz for the Books
“Why a bonanza of beached fish is overwhelming Ocracoke’s shores
Ken DeBarth has never seen anything like it: thousands of small fish coughed up on the shores of North Carolina’s Ocracoke Island. The Tradewinds Tackle clerk has been fishing at this quiet Outer Banks isle for years, but in recent weeks he’s witnessed a weird twist on a seasonal phenomenon—a “Bluefish Blitz” gone wild, resulting in piles of dead fish on the beach.
A Bluefish Blitz—fishermen-speak for a special kind of bluefish attack—is when, during the species’s seasonal southern migration, the aggressive hunters herd smaller swimmers together in a feeding frenzy, essentially creating their very own moveable buffet. In recent weeks the attack has become an all-out amphibious assault, with fish flinging themselves surfside in a last-ditch suicidal escape.
“It’s pretty wild. It’s been going on now for a couple of weeks,” DeBarth says. “I talked to some old-timers, and they said the last time they’d seen anything like it was in the seventies.”
The ecological marvel reached a fever pitch on Friday, October 14, when hundreds of spot fish, speckled trout, and mullet were found flapping and flailing in the sun.
“Schools of bluefish feed on schooling fish like this throughout the year, but we usually don’t see it because it is offshore or deeper in the water column,” says Jeffrey Buckel, professor of applied ecology at North Carolina State University.
The striking display was a matter of lucky timing (at least for the bluefish). The smaller schools migrated from estuaries out into the ocean just as the bluefish happened to arrive on their swim south, according to David Behringer, a biologist with North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries. “Bluefish have a good set of knife-sharp teeth on them and are really fast swimmers, so the smaller fish try to escape by racing into shallow water,” Behringer explains. “What makes this unique is the magnitude of it.” Chased by so many bigger fish, the small schools just kept going until they landed where visitors typically set up their towels and beach chairs.
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Photo Credit: Original Author