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The school of fish gathers around the rocks of the Balcón de Europa in Nerja. Lucía Muñoz
Nature

Watch the strange sight as thousands of fish seek refuge near Costa del Sol landmark

One theory for the odd behaviour, put forward by experts, is that the lachas, or sardinella fish, were trying to flee from predators

Eugenio Cabezas

Nerja

Friday, 17 November 2023, 10:26

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Lucía Muñoz, an amateur photographer from Nerja, decided to go to Nerja’s Balcón de Europa on the evening of Tuesday 14 November to capture the 'taró' mist that had descended on the Costa del Sol town. While she was taking photos, she heard what she described as a "very loud noise, like a river".

Muñoz told SUR, "I looked over the railing and saw thousands of fish jumping and banging against the rocks. I was so surprised that I took out my mobile phone and started to record them.”

What the amateur photographer saw was thousands of laches, or sadinella, which belong to the sardine family, banging continuously against the rocks below the Balcón de Europa, next to Calahonda beach. "There were some fishermen nearby and they told me that they were lachas, a type of sardine," Muñoz said.

Unprecedented

Marine biologists Juan Jesús Martín and Juan Antonio López confirmed to SUR that it was a huge shoal of the fish, which are abundant in the Mediterranean and have a lower commercial value than sardines.

"It's the first time in my life I've ever seen anything like this. It is a very surprising, strange and unprecedented phenomenon, I would say, on the coast of Malaga," said Martín, who has more than three decades of experience in research and dissemination of information on the Alborán Sea.

He was the manager at the Aula del Mar in Malaga until it was closed just a year ago. "It is likely that they were fleeing from a predator, such as mackerel, dolphins or tuna and that is why they took refuge in the rocks," Martín explained.

Climate change

López, who is a member of the recently created Fundación Aula del Mar Mediterráneo (FAMM), confirmed this initial hypothesis, "it seems that they were fleeing from something and taking refuge". He added, "We are going to investigate it. They were probably fleeing from groups of Atlantic tuna or something similar.” López believes that the unusual phenomenon is related to climate change and the increase in the temperature of the Mediterranean Sea in recent years.

"We are detecting large shoals of young shrimps, sea bass, sardines and anchovies, which may be related to the increase in water temperatures, which causes an explosion of phytoplankton and this, in turn, produces an exaggerated and unusual reproduction of other species, it is a food chain", explained López, who compared the situation to that of wild boar, bears or wolves on land. "Predators move closer to the coast because they have less food in the sea, due to overfishing," he said.

Neither expert believes that they are fish that have been put back into the sea from fishing boats. "I have seen some shoals hitting the rocks of El Palo and Pedregalejo, also fleeing, but of much smaller fish, not of that size and not in such large numbers," said Martín.

The sardinella in Nerja and bottom left, the shrimps in Torrox. Lucía Muñoz, SUR
Imagen principal - The sardinella in Nerja and bottom left, the shrimps in Torrox.
Imagen secundaria 1 - The sardinella in Nerja and bottom left, the shrimps in Torrox.
Imagen secundaria 2 - The sardinella in Nerja and bottom left, the shrimps in Torrox.

According to Muñoz, there were thousands of adult sardines, between 15 and 17 centimetres long. "Hundreds were trapped on the rocks, but the vast majority returned to the sea within a few minutes," she described. The phenomenon lasted more than half an hour, generating great interest among the few passers-by who were in the area at that time of night. "Some people took fish in bags and others helped them back into the water," said Muñoz.

The videos and photos she uploaded on Facebook have attracted a lot of comments including one from Pako Ruiz, who witnessed thousands of shrimps near the shore in neighbouring Torrox. “It is also very striking, surprising and strange," Martín said about the Torrox photo.

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