Silver fish lined the bay, nose to tail, hundreds of shiny translucent bodies lay helpless as the waves lapped the shore. In an effort to escape their predators the school of piper had made a fatal leap from the water in the receding tide only to find themselves marooned on the beach.
We’ve often seen schools of bait fish like these being herded from the depths by larger fish such as the fast running kahawai or kingfish. We’ve observed them skipping above the surface to escape in a synchronised wave as the water beneath them boils with activity.
Walking the line I discover their bodies are rigid, others still limp. I hurl them back into the sea, because I decide, it is more respectful they are returned in death to their home and no doubt into the mouths of those opportunists still waiting beyond the break.
I notice some spring back to life as the water tension is broken by their fall, with more urgency now to save those I can, I gently lift one limp body after another and unceremoniously through them in the sea.
Chastising myself for leaving my phone behind to catch the moment I return again later with the family. The tide is much lower now and we can't see a single fish on the shore.
“Where’s the fish?” I ask my dog who raises his nose and sweeps through the rocks returning with a well munched piper. After encouraging him to leave it we return its broken body to the sea. Off he runs again, this time more reluctant to come back with his catch he stays pointing at a cluster of rocks up against a sea cliff. Good Boy!
Here we find pockets of fish in the the rockpools, their bodies are white, opaque and still. Then looking closer, several piper are still alive! They are well camouflaged, looking down on them they blend with the seafloor and from below their transparent bodies mirror the water. In theory this makes them more difficult to see, it's a tough life for a bait fish being hammered from above and below!
Gasping for air in the de-oxygenated pool we transfer them quickly back to the sea. They seem somewhat unappreciative of our helping hand, stabbing holes in the water filled bag and firing back at us when we release them.
Returning to the pool we find rock crabs dragging the carcasses back into their liars. Camera shy and not willing to share their feast they shrink back beyond our scope. We retreat too, leaving the silver light hanging low above the silver sea and no doubt many silver bodies to their peril in the night.