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Why do the fish ‘mullets’ jump out of the water?

Amy Hotz

According to Hap Fatzinger, aquarium curator at the N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher, this is a question that has baffled mankind for ages.

There are theories, however.

Fatzinger said that if you see a single mullet jump, It could be caused by a parasite. The fish is trying to knock it off. Parasites are common on all kinds of fish. Some fish scratch the bottom, rub up against rocks or jump to knock them off.

If you see a whole school of mullet jumping, they’re probably trying to evade a predator.

“This isn’t scientific by any means,” Fatzinger said. The knowledge is derived from observation, conversations with other scientists and educated guesses.

“Or, maybe they’re not jumping for any reason. I mean, why does a humpback whale jump?” he said.

But, really, it’s anyone’s guess until someone invents the discipline of fish psychology.

Related links:

Are there sharks in coastal Carolina’s waters?

What’s the best way to see fish and sea creatures?

What is the N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher?

How do I see sea turtles nesting on the beaches?

What is the Museum of Coastal Carolina?

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6 Responses to “ Why do the fish ‘mullets’ jump out of the water?”

  1. On October 14, 2010 at 12:05 pm Sue wrote:

    The oldtimers and fishermen on the Outer Banks knew that when the mullet began their “jumping,” most often in the early fall, it indicated that the “blues” were “running,” referring to the predatory schools of bluefish that love mullet and chase them in close to shore for easier catching. The fishermen would then rush to reap the bounty of blues running behind the mullet. Mullet will sometimes beach themselves in their efforts to escape the bluefish.

  2. On May 5, 2011 at 5:38 pm Steve Clemmons wrote:

    Bullheaded Mullet jump to escape predators. They will twist in the air to show a different side when they land, confusing the predators. Mullet have a silver side as well as a dark side.
    If one found a pier over where schools of mullet congregate, walked barefooted out to the end on a dark night, then dropped a heavy piece of wood on the deck to make a slapping noise, they would see the entire surface of the water erupt with thousands of mullets going airborne at the same time. The sounds replicated the sounds porpoises (Mullets biggest and hungrest predator} make with their tail when they round up a school for feeding.
    Now this is something to see. The porpoises are the best fish catchers in the world and love mullet because they are fatty(oily) fish and high in protein that gives them a lot of energy and storable fat..
    They will work a big school of mullet into the shallows, then stand guard using the slapping sounds of their tail to keep the fish in a tight mass. Then one or two glides into the mass making absolutely no noise and fiills up, They take turns and when all are full, they move on out.
    I lived for some years near the Indian River in Florida and spent a lot of time on my dock watching the big pods of porpoises feed on the schools of mullet that often stretched as far as one could see
    We had landlocked sea trout (weakfish) over three foot long that we called gator trout. They loved to chase the mullet for fun and one could see the line where the trout swam through the schools by the mullet that jumped to get out of the way.
    An expert fisherman that was looking to hook a big trout (36″min) would watch for the actions of the mullets jumping because of the trout that lurked just below the surface.
    Hope this explains the reason mullet jump.

  3. On May 17, 2011 at 9:33 pm Mullet Master wrote:

    I believe that the mullet living in the tropical waters are related to the flying fish. Some have evolved and lost their wings. Their natural instinct still makes them try to to be aerial.

  4. On October 12, 2011 at 7:55 pm J.Heck wrote:

    I have my own theory, being one of the ole timers. Now I have watched dolfins just crash a school of mullet and fish were flying all over the place. When a single mullet jumps, sometimes just 2 or 3 feet away from me in 3-4 feet of water, my theory is they just want to take a look around them above the water. They just want a look! what do you think?

  5. On January 28, 2013 at 11:03 am Floridian Observer wrote:

    I have observed fish frequently in Florida, but I would never say that I am an expert or that I know exactly why fish jump out of the water. However, I have a few ideas. First I would like to point out that fish (except for the deep-sea fish where sunlight doesn’t even shine) are quite aware that there is another world above them. Like all animals, fish would live rather boring lives if all they ever did was eat, sleep, and avoid predators. I think a fish likes to explore and have fun, like a house-cat likes to play and wander outside. So with that in mind, I would like to propose 3 different purposes for fish to jump out of the water.
    1- for fun! What’s more fun than flying? Nothing! I think that sometimes, fish jump out of the water just for fun! Maybe it’s to see “who can jump the highest?”, maybe it’s to see the world above, or maybe it’s to enjoy that moment of felicity in freefall!
    2- for food. Mosquitos, water bugs, and other insects fly over water frequently. If the water is still, bugs or insects will land on the surface. Fish that eat insects will jump out of the water to catch them, or scoop them up with their mouths.
    3- for air. if the water is polluted, it’s possible that a fish might jump to get more oxygen directly from the air rather than get so many toxins through the water.

  6. On January 28, 2013 at 11:10 am Floridian Observer wrote:

    To J. Heck: Yes, I totally agree! That was one thing that I forgot to mention in my post- fish, especially ocean fish I would think, also jump out of the water to avoid predators. But just like you observed, fish don’t always jump out of the water for the same reason. On one occasion, they may jump to avoid a predator. On another, they may jump to catch insects and eat. On another, they may do it for their own pleasure and at their own leisure.

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