Tickled by Herring

Magical experiences often happen when we leap into the unknown without hesitation, because deep in our hearts it just feels like the right thing to do.  Sometimes these opportunities arise without a hint of expectation.  I was touring a guest from Ireland around the area when I found myself in this “must do” vortex moment.  Perhaps it was the raucous, frenzy of seagulls energizing me or the unusually clear, sun-sparkled summer waters beckoning me in, but for whatever reason, I was mesmerized by the huge number of rhinoceros auklets gracefully flying below my boat and the silver sheen of thousands of Pacific herring swirling and popping like popcorn on the surface.

in the midst of seagulls   auklet wide screen   P1090643

All the excitement compelled me to get involved in the action.  Bubbling with excitement I turned to Richie and blurted out, “I just have to get in the water.  Would you mind?”  With a startled look on his face and the true heart of an adventurer, he instantly replied, “What are you waiting for?”  In a flash, I stripped down to my bikini and leapt into the 47 degree ocean.

The contrast of the obnoxiously loud, feeding mayhem above and the angelic dance of auklets below was like visiting two different dimensions of reality every time I came up for air.  And the center of it all was a spiraling galaxy of shining fish.  I was touched by the giving spirit of herring.

These fish normally travel in large, organized schools making an ambush difficult, their shimmering bodies flashing and dazzling in unison make it hard to pick out individuals.  Schools of fish normally follow a precise spatial arrangement which helps maintain their constant cruising speed, but predators often cooperate in groups using different techniques to panic and herd a school into a tight ball. Humpback whales blow a net of bubbles and auklets round them up like cowboys.  Forming a bait ball is the herrings last-ditch defensive measure, abandoning their coordinated movements and each trying to force their way into the center for safety.  Such panic and chaos only brings in more harm, just as it does with humans in a survival situation.  But perhaps the bait balls they form are so they can gift the world with their life.

The herring, as well as many other small schooling fish, are vital to the ecology of the ocean, have been for a millenia, feeding a huge array of creatures, from fish to birds, seals to whales, plants to humans.  Countries around the world depend heavily on herring, not only to feed the planet, but provide bait for other fisheries and fertilizers for crops.  They give life.   And while swimming near, watching the salmon and birds devouring them one-by-one until reduced to a teeny ball of fish, I really felt the gift of their beautiful life and connection to our world.

And I’ll never look at a tube of sparkly lip gloss again, as the “pearl essence” of their dazzling scales have been extracted for use as a pigment in cosmetics and paints.  While surviving in the wilderness, I tried using the crystal-like marbles found in fish eyes for beads, but I never thought of fish scales for sparkles in my hair, that would have been nice… where was my imagination??  Glad my imagination didn’t fall to thinking about a humpback whale when I was in the water….a big ol’ gaping whale mouth coming up from below might have swallowed more than just fish.  I’m going to leave that experience to Pinocchio.

Blessings to you little fish and thank you!