Location: Isla Mujeres, Mexico
Sailfish are said to be the fastest fish in the ocean capable of speeds approaching 70mph. These piscine acrobats are famed for their athletic jumps when hooked, however, the true beauty of the animal is to see it performing as a magnificent underwater hunter.
Off the coast of Mexico near to a tiny island called Isla Mujeres is one of the world’s best locations to see these gorgeous fish and the experience of being in the water with large numbers of them surely ranks amongst my favorite of marine experiences.
You spend hours looking for tell-tale signs that give away the presence of the subsurface hunters. Specks on the horizon denote frigate birds, the prehistoric pterodactyl looking masters of flight that hover above hapless baitfish which are being driven to the surface by the sailfish. These birds are our clue that beneath them we may have a chance to see the glorious gladiators of the sea.
Stopping a few dozen yards away from the action our skipper shouts in almost unintelligible English “go, go, go … follow the boids” and into the inky blue water we slip.
At first nothing but then suddenly the first of the fleeing sardines race by. Then another small group, and suddenly a shape comes hurtling towards us in active pursuit of a small bait ball fleeing as fast as it can.
With effortless knife skills that any Michelin chef would be proud of, the sashimi master slices left and right with a blade-like-sword and in an instant two halves of a still struggling fish sink next to me.
With a deft flick of a tail, the sailfish gobbles first one and then the other piece with an audible crunch as if eating popcorn. The remaining panic-stricken baitfish now try to use me as cover and the sailfish looks on with a worrying intent. Racing towards me at lightning speed the swordsman seems intent on skewering me. Almost sure of impact I brace, only for this missile to at the last minute throw up its dazzlingly colorful sail in the same way a flamenco dancer twirls her luxuriant skirt.
First this way, then that, all around me colors blur and fish implode in Star Wars-like explosions of scales as the excited hunter makes short work of breakfast.
For over an hour I watch in awe as the bait ball gets smaller and smaller as this magnificent dancer sets the stage alight with a display of unimaginable agility and beauty.
One by one the fish disappear until only glittering scales betray where once a shoal had been, and disappearing down into the depths the content gladiator returns to its now silent world.
Exhibition: 173cm x 114cm (68” x 45”)
Large: 146 cm x 96.5cm (57.5″ x 38″)
Classic: 118cm x 78cm (46.5” x 31”)
© Chris Fallows 2018