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Saturday, June 20, 2009

6.20- Jumping Mullet

Two Striped Mullet (Mugil cephalus) fail to reach orbit above the River Neuse
(Click on above image for full size)

I am told that the fish around here that jump entirely out of the water are mullet, while those that just break the surface in a silvery flash are menhaden.

The "Jumping Mullet" have begun their annual summer dance above the waters.

In the photo above, the mullet on the left is descending after a prodigious leap while the one on the right is in ascent, having just emerged where the water is rippled.

At right (click image to enlarge) is a closer crop of the left-side fish (above) as seen in the frame immediately preceding today's feature photo (camera on multi-shot setting)... The lone fish is still ascending from the disturbed water (lower right of photo on right) where it loosed its watery bonds.

At times one can count one or two dozen mullet-jumps per minute at a given stretch of river or creek bank, especially when the wind is down and the waters are calm.

There seems to be no consensus on why mullet jump...

Some say they are escaping predators (mullet themselves eat plant matter, so they don't chase flies or bugs)...

Some scientists theorize that mullet have the physiognomy to absorb gaseous oxygen... one scientific study of mullet jumping by the University of Southwestern Louisiana observed an inverse correlation between numbers of mullet jumps per minute and dissolved oxygen levels in the surrounding waters... suggesting the fish supplement low water-supplied oxygen by taking some breaths of fresh air.

Yet others say the fish is simply having fun, playing and jumping. To my unskilled eye, that seems the most satisfying explanation. Sometimes anthropomorphizing is irresistible.

For whatever reason they jump, and no matter how many are jumping around you, they sure are hard to capture in a photograph... by the time you detect a jump and begin swinging the camera around, the fish is already back in the water.

I have found that to photograph mullet, one needs to find a place where there is a lot of jumping, then point and focus at one spot in the water and wait with the shutter half-depressed until a fish happens to jump into the viewfinder... also multi-shot (motor drive simulator) is recommended, which usually means having to shoot in manual or aperture-priority mode.

Mullet often jump two, three and four times directly in a row... If you can lead them properly after the first jump, you may be able to get a shot of the second or third jump, if made.

For all my advice, all I have is about three passable, yet blurry, shots of mullet in the air and about seventy clear pictures of splashes in the water as the mullet lands... Here are a couple detail crops of the above two fish splashing down in quick succession:
(Click below images to enlarge)


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