Behind the Shot: The Story of Giant Schooling Fish


An image showing a photographer standing on the sea floor, dwarfed by an enormous and towering “tornado” of fish has been an extremely popular share item on Facebook for weeks. Now the details behind the image are being shared by Mission Blue. The photographer is a scientist named Octavio Aburto, and the location was Cabo Pulmo National Park, a vast marine reserve in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez, north of Cabo San Lucas on Baja California’s tip.

The diver in the photo is David Castro, whose family helps enforce rules within the park. The fish are jacks, voracious predators that school in large groups and can sweep across a region in such large numbers that they blot out the sun’s rays.

Aburto told Mission Blue: “I think my background [as a scientist] affects what I seek to capture through my camera lens. For example, this ‘David and Goliath’ image is speaking to the courtship behavior of one particular species of jack fish. I wanted to share this behavior with others and photography is one way to do that.”

The scientist explained that the image, captured last month and among entries in a National Geographic photo contest, had been in his mind for three years. But conditions and timing finally afforded the opportunity.

“I have been trying to capture this image ever since I saw the behavior of these fish and witnessed this incredible tornado that they form during courtship,” Aburto said.

He added that many have asked whether the image is real or altered, and how he managed to gather all those fish together before taking the photograph.

“My response to these questions has been this — of course it is real. Fish, as is the case with many other animals, have certain behaviors that they perform when they reproduce,” Aburto said.

“One reason that the average person may not know about these fish spawning aggregations is simply that these creatures live underwater. People can’t see the fish participating in these behaviors, and those who do witness these behaviors via scuba or snorkel are rarely able to capture it in an image.”

Aburto hopes the image will foster appreciation for the marine universe, for Cabo Pulmo National Park in particular, and will “bring attention to other successful marine reserves, especially in Latin America.”

“With the help of key people, such as renowned Mission Blue founder Sylvia Earle, we can show that marine reserves are better options for coastal development. Basically, we need more Cabo Pulmos along the Mexican coasts and around the world.”

In affiliation with GrindTV.

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