Marine Biology

Why and how do Fish Swim in Schools



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There's safety in numbers. Children form close groups of friends that are nearly inseparable, so they never can be singled out for bullying. Buffalo stay close for higher odds of survival. If a predator were to approach them, they'd be among ten. Most predators wouldn't eat the whole herd, only a select few.

So is the same case as fish. The ocean is an endless expanse full of predators. Alone, a fish is easy prey. However, among millions, or even twenty, the chances of getting eaten fall dramatically. It's a gamble of life or death, but the odds are for them. Some of them are more than likely to get eaten; but what are the odds that that one fish is the one to be eaten? A lot better than being alone. In fact, schooling is so efficient than 80% of known fish swim in schools as a survival mechanism.

However, not all fish swim in schools just for survival. For some instinct pushes them into groups. While fish that school do so instinctually, some school for reasons quite different than the other fish. Piranhas are the perfect example of this. Rather than schooling to survive, they school to kill. Alone a piranha would no doubt be a vicious predator, but in a school they are nearly unstoppable. It's said that a school of piranhas can strip a cow to the bone in under a minute.

Schooling also provides some advantages other than survival. Swimming in schools reduces friction on fish's bodies, all the while relieving them of too much excess work. Swimming in schools reduces the amount of energy required to swim, providing a nice perk in case they need to make a quick escape.

They also create dazzling colors and shimmers in a tightly knit group, causing confusion among predators. Individuals get lost in a blur of colors that appears to be one group, making it harder for any potential predators to single out fish. This makes it harder to hunt them, as well as throw them for a loop.

What's truly amazing though is the fish's ability to keep the school so close at all times. They move in nearly perfect unison, never stumbling or straying from the school. It's almost as if they become one entity when swimming in schools. There's no individual, just a flurry of patterns and fins.

It's no accident that they can maintain their swimming patterns so closely. A complicated mechanic that's built into each fish's instinct alerts them when another fish near them has moved, and they move with it. Coupled with their flat heads and eyes pointing horizontally, the fish can move in unison with ease. Each fish has the ability to control the group's movement, because schooling is not similar to follow the leader.

When all's said and done, schooling is nothing short of amazing. It's a complex system that not only is pretty and eye pleasing, but also is an effective method of survival. The ocean's eco system has evolved around it, and humans look down in fascination as they swim in unison. While we still have much to learn about the ocean, schooling is something that we now know.

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