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The most extraordinary thing I’ve ever seen underwater…

Updated: Jun 12, 2022

Baitball (photo by OpenStax College)

Oh come on, we all have that one dive story that we absolutely love to bring out among… well… just about anybody! Even my non-diving friends usually get the excitement behind this one story of mine and the funny twist is that I was half-petrified the entire time. I took to diving like a duck to water when I was just a kid and it seems outrageously unfair looking back now that I couldn’t quite get a grip of my nerves while the awesome scene unfolded in front of me and my gangly limbs.

The rumour that was running through the dive shops on the island of Bonaire, when I was all of about 12 years old, was that there was a massive – and I mean MASSIVE – bait ball moving along the coast. This bait ball was made up of 80,000+ fish said the experts – how hard could that be to find in the crystal-clear Caribbean waters that surrounded the island? As it turns out, quite difficult indeed.

Mum, Dad and I had been on the look-out for several days when a sighting was then reported off of the Tipsy Seagull dive site, near the outer reef. We bundled up our gear and headed out. I was still learning how to moderate my air consumption (and truth be told was getting pretty hungry), so we decided to head back to shore. On our return, suddenly we saw several big horse-eye jacks darting off in a rush. It was unusual to see them so close to shore but I didn’t think much of it at the time as we were heading in the same direction as them, to exit the dive. Next thing I know, we are face to face with a huge swirling mass of fish. To my 12 year old eyes, this thing was as big as a two-storey house and growing with every second we approached.

The bait ball was moving along steadily and we were so in awe that we barely noticed we were directly in its path, heading south. Next thing I know, I’m clutching my mum’s hand as hard as I can as we’re slowly engulfed by this cloud of shimmering silver. Each fish moves totally in sync with one another and behaves as if it was one entity. To be no more than an arm’s reach away from what is still today my most remarkable experience with the natural world, was truly breath-taking.

The whole encounter probably lasted no more than about 10 minutes and I certainly gave my regulator a good work-out when I sadly realized I was running low on air. It was time to leave and let nature get on with its plans. 16 years on I still wish I had had the sense to calm down and soak it all in. Having been such a new diver at the time, I probably didn’t realize what a treat that sighting was but it still takes the podium position in my log book as best encounter… yet.

How about you? We know everyone loves to share their best stories and we would love to hear of your mesmerizing stories!

1 Comment

Unknown member
Jun 24, 2021

Love your description of your bait ball encounter. I agree, a phenomenal experience if you're lucky enough to be there at the right time. For my part, some of the more weird things I’ve experienced under water involve humans, not marine life. Predictable? Maybe. No dead bodies, no threatening crazies, but some definitely strange behaviour.

· A guy who looked like he was shadow boxing, upright and seriously going for it. Had we been deeper, I would have thought he was narked, but as we were at about 6 meters, we figured he was, well, shadow boxing

· Two guys, completely naked but for essential dive equipment, passed us, going in the opposite direction, at high speed. Granted, it was…

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