Underwater photographers travel around the world to find the best photos they can, but Jon Schwartz of Bluewater Jon only had to step a short way from his home in California to find himself in the middle of thousands of squid surrounding him when he went kayak fishing with a friend. This is a big fish story with a difference and incredible images to prove it.
We asked him how special the experience was considering all the adventures he has had in other places – you can see another of Jon's amazing experiences here. Jon said: "It was extremely special because it was so entirely unexpected. I travel all over the world to swim with big fish like marlin and tuna but this was a world class photo op that occurred within 30 minutes of my house and was totally unexpected."
When Jon slipped into the water hoping to take some pictures of this large shoal that he could see near the top of the ocean, he never expected the squid to swim towards him rather than away! He realized that they were coming to him for protection from predators that were attacking from all sides, big fish, mackerel and even birds diving down to take advantage of this unexpected food surplus.
We wondered if he was nervous at all considering he was in between squid and their predators: "I wasn't nervous like I am in tropical bluewater locations because in those places there are lots of predators with bills – marlin and sailfish – that attack schools of bait like that. In Southern California there are way fewer billfish. Anytime I am surrounded by bait seeking shelter from predators it gives me an unsettling feeling, but it didn't rise to the level of alarm that incidents like those in tropical waters do."
This is an image taken of the school of squid from below. One of the more interesting aspects of this story is how fish predators attack the squid – is it normal for them to drive a school into a ball? "Yes it is normal hunting behavior, they corral their prey and then pick them off like that. Every predator benefits, including birds, who dive bomb the bait balls."
They were so close to Jon that he thought he could literally reach out and touch them, which he did. Some of his thoughts from the story which he told on his blog are how connected he felt with them, they weren't just unthinking animals. In fact squid are considered among the most intelligent animals in the ocean, close to the octopus.
Jon said, "Incredibly, when I surfaced for air and swam towards them, they swam right to me! They looked otherworldly, and I could see and feel hundreds of eyes trained on me. I felt as if I was being approached by a group of intelligent beings rather than fish; something about the way they moved and pulsed rhythmically made me feel connected to them." No animal was harmed in this photo, he was just having a little fun with his camera!
Humboldt squid are called the "red devil" in Spanish and frequently hunt in schools themselves just as these squid were being hunted by a pack of other fish. The behavior of pack cooperation in hunting schools of squid is the first ever seen by an invertebrate in the ocean. Jon has many other adventures coming to him, but it doesn't seem likely that most will measure up to this one. He was nervous taking them, hoping it all came out as he saw them: "I kept closing the distance and soon I was in literally in the middle of the shoal, completely surrounded by thousands of squid. My camera was on full burst mode, clicking at eight frames per second. I hoped and prayed that my camera settings were correct, because if what I saw with my own eyes was being captured on film, I’d have some incredible photos! The huge mass of squid kept going past me towards the kelp forest, but several stragglers stayed with me and hovered inches from my mask."
Special thanks to Jon Schwartz of Bluewaterjon.com for his wonderful images.