What does a school of fish look like?
After a recent fatal shark attack, Maine residents and summer visitors are being asked to avoid deep water and areas with seals and schools of fish. While deep water is easy to gauge and seals can be spotted pretty quickly, for many, a school of fish is more difficult to identify.
Right now, all along Maine's rocky coast (especially in the midcoast), menhaden (better known as pogies) are swimming in schools close to shore. On sunny warm days, pogies will come to the surface and you can often see them flipping about in the water. On cooler, foggier days, they are more difficult to spot but can be hovering just below the surface.
Fish stay together for a few different reasons including socialization and to defend against predators. This can be referred to as schooling or shoaling. Some schools can occupy very large areas of water, and sometimes the schools can be smaller. Larger schools are obviously easier to spot, but for smaller schools, and when unfamiliar, identifying a school of fish can be more difficult.
Here are some things you can look (and listen) for:
Look for lots of ripples on the surface of the water. As aforementioned, pogies are often near the surface and will flip around quite a bit.
Look for where there are lots of birds in the water. Shags, for example, will dive into a school of pogies looking for food. Seals are often not too far from pogies either because it is also a food source for them.
Look at the color of the surface of the water. This is a tough one, especially on a windy day but sometimes when the water is calm and flat you may notice a darker color or a shadowy area.
Listen for a whoosh. Sometimes pogies do this thing where a bunch of them surface in such a way that it sounds like whoosh. (Turn the volume up and watch the clip.)
Keep an eye out for fishing boats. In areas like Harpswell, where there a quite a few menhaden right now, you'll likely see boats in the morning looking for and catching fish. If they are in the area, there are likely schools of fish around.
What happened in Harpswell was horrific, and as a Harpswell resident, I am looking at the water a little differently right now. We have spent a lot of time this summer jumping off the wharf and swimming around, and right now, we are taking a pause. When we are ready to get back in the water we will be doing so with an abundance of caution.
Please be safe.
Together, we persevere.