Marine biologist and underwater photographer Jacqueline Casey, a frequent contributor to our magazine, found herself the subject of colleague Arnie Stein’s capture of never-before-documented occurrence: that of a school of anchovies and other baitfish coalescing into the shape of the oft-misunderstood White Shark.
Casey and Stein had been studying the aquatic phenomena for the better part of a year after watching such a group descend on an injured hammerhead and devour it in seconds.
The pair, who met on a post-doc project studying shrimp in the Gulf of California, were attempting to prove that the anchovies had developed a communication system, whether through behavioral cues or dispersed scents, that led them to take on the shape of an apex predator and work together to conquer other fish that would typically view them as prey. If you look closely at this image, you will note that many of the fish in this school are swimming in apparently random directions.
In a recent paper Dr. Casey presented as biologist-in-residence at MBARI (Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute), she theorized that the increased toxicity of near-shore ocean waters in tropical and subtropical climate zones had forced the former baitfish into new behaviors as a means of survival.
Sadly, this coalescent group chose Dr. Casey as their next target minutes after this photograph was taken. In his emotional report of the incident, Dr. Stein, who grew up in Texas and began his photography career documenting the end days of America’s last remaining cattle ranch, said it was ‘like watching fire ants strip a cow in minutes.’
Stein managed to return to the research vessel Zephyr unscathed.
We join him in mourning the loss of his partner in marriage and in work, and in celebrating Dr. Casey’s contributions to this magazine, and to our greater understanding of our oceans and their denizens.