There’s been a dramatic change in the Glassell Hall (also known as the old paleo hall). Many of you may have already noticed, especially those who’ve come to see Magna Carta or came to our first Mixers & Elixirs. Because now there are many fish suspended in a stunning array, capturing the action of a feeding frenzy out at sea.
This installation is meant to highlight, in part, the massive marlin on display, added this past December. Caught by Houston businessman and philanthropist Alfred Glassell in August 1953, it is the largest marlin ever captured, weighing in at 1,560 lbs. Caught in the Pacific Ocean, it alone is a stunning sight, seeing the massive proportions of one of the most fearsome and majestic fish in the ocean.
But we couldn’t stop there. We’ve now added a full installation displaying how a “bait ball” is disrupted by predators.
The bait ball is a defense mechanism used by schooling fish. These incredible living fortresses can measure up to 20 meters (66 feet) wide and 10 meters (32 feet) deep. They’re formed when fish, swimming in a school, sense predators are near. Amazingly, predators have shown cooperative behavior with the intent to get schooling fish to form a bait ball. Ironically, this formation, while a defensive mechanism of the school, serves the predator’s interest better than the prey’s. This cooperation can happen both intraspecifically (within one species of fish) and interspecifically (between more than one species).
Two changes then occur in the school’s movement: they try to move upward, toward the surface, and they try to move to the center of the school, to be better protected by the other fish. In a remarkable feat, this consistently creates a ball with the smallest surface area possible which can accommodate the total number of fish.
This is, however, where the fish seem to shoot themselves in the foot — err, fin — as their movement towards the surface limits their escape possibilities, and the ball they create attracts the attention of still more predatory fish. It’s almost as if they light up the bat signal with a sign that says, “ALL YOU CAN EAT BUFFET.”
It’s here that the real action begins. The largest predators charge into the bait ball, killing or stunning their prey as they pass through, then turning back to consume them. This will cause more and more of the fish to break off from the school — becoming easy targets for smaller predatory fish. This process continues as the bait ball shrinks and the predators find it increasingly simple to pick off the stragglers.
My favorite part of this installation is the way in which the motion and frantic nature of this process has been captured with specimens hung from the ceiling. Sure, you could watch a video of this process (which we also have playing in the hall), but it’s difficult to appreciate the scale of the event until you see it in three dimensions.
The installation took about six months to put together from original conception to final execution. Modeled first in two dimensions, as seen from above, then converted to 3D, this design by senior designer Rodney Gentry gives motion and a sense of urgency to the specimens.
So come check it out and get schooled in bait balls!