How To School Little Mermaids

How To School Little Mermaids

School. As we round the first of the year, I am still asking myself, “how did the first semester go by so fast?” Seems like it’s become year-round. We have barely eight weeks for sun and fun, before it’s time to backpack shop and brush up on last-minute math again. And in less than two months, the thrill of a new year has already faded. “But why do we have to go to school mom,” my 5th-grader asks as she faces another Monday. Yeah, I feel her pain. “You’ll be a smart mermaid if you keep on swimming,” I say, trying to encourage her. But her muffled “hrrumph” indicates she clearly thinks otherwise.

Smart mermaid. Smart Fish. It’s amazing how most things in everyday life draw my mind back to the oceans that have inspired Enchantails. It’s funny that we say fish swim in schools. Do fish actually learn? Seems like they just hang out together. Yet in my research, I discovered that fish are not considered to be in a “school” unless they are swimming. If they are just hanging out, it’s called “shoaling.” (I did a lot of “shoaling” in school myself. LOL.)

But why do fish actually swim in schools? One reason is they do it for safety reasons, to avoid predators. Scientists think fish also swim in schools to conserve energy. Large numbers of fish swimming in close proximity of one another

reduce the friction in the water, making journeys easier. Lone fish may have trouble finding meals on their own, but lots of hungry eyes can spot dinner pretty fast.

How many fish are technically required to make up a “school?” Turns out, you need at least five fish; but in the wild, hundreds, thousands even billions of fish can make up one school. In the North Atlantic, people have observed herring schools with an estimated 4.5 billion fish in them. Can you imagine? And they all manage to swim and move like synchronized swimmers without ever having practiced! I guess it’s like driving in traffic on the 405 freeway that connects the valley where I live with Los Angeles. We don't personally know our fellow commuters, and yet we all move together. You just stop and go with the people around you. Fish have eyes on the sides of their heads which probably help them move together. But scientists think their sense of hearing and smell help fish keep track of the others around them. Huh. Seems like the fish and I have quite a bit in common. I can shoal, school, and spot hungry beasts, all while tracking the little fish swimming around me… Maybe I am part fish. Definitely a mermaid.

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