New Caledonia: Bird Fish Feeding Frenzy New Caledonia

360° panorama by Richard Chesher.
Click the image to open the interactive version.

A school of anchovies swarms together, forming a scintillating mass attacked from above and below in a fascinating example of interspecies hunting. This happens every day in New Caledonia’s vast coral reef lagoon.Predatory fish must identify a particular fish to catch it. The anchovies create a speeding vortex of thousands of individual fish moving in perfect unison so the predators can’t single one out. But these huge jacks knew exactly what to do. They coordinated their attacks, some of them coming up from below while others peeled the anchovies away from the ball, right into the path of the ascending fish that would burst right out of the water with a fountain of glittering anchovies all around them. In the mayhem the anchovies would scatter, making perfect targets for the predatory fish and for the birds.Red billed sea gulls (Larus novaehollandie) understand the strategy. They flew right above the jacks that were striking in from the side so the birds were in exactly the right spot to feast on the fountain of anchovies when the big jacks came bursting up from the depths. The gulls sometimes snatched anchovies right out of the mouths of the striking fish – then leaped back into the air, often tossing their catch into the air and then gulping it down.After about 20 minutes of this mayhem it got really wild. Other species of fish joined in, barracuda, mackerel, snappers. A school of sharks swam around the whole group, moving in closer and closer, maybe picking up titbits of hashed sardines. More birds came from every direction, flocks of Noddy turns (Anous tenuirostris), stayed maybe 20 to 50 metres away from the centre of the feeding frenzy. A few of the tiny, white ” Black Naped Turns”, (Sterna sumatranta), circled around but they, like the noddy turns, stayed away from the centre of the intensive feeding frenzy. Possibly because the sea gulls might get aggressive if the smaller turns got in their way and would certainly try to steal any fish the smaller birds caught. You can see in the sphere image that when one sea gull caught a fish and didn’t get the fish down the gullet fast enough, the other sea gulls made serious tries at stealing it.This is fishing in the extreme, with continuous action that goes on for up to three hours with a bewildering array of species harvesting the small but abundant schools of “bait” fish.

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