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JU MSRI Executive Director Quinton White’s Times-Union River Life Column: When the river ‘boils,’ it must be mullet

Mullet is the subject of the Friday, Oct. 25, monthly River Life column in The Florida Times-Union by JU Marine Science Research Institute Executive Director Quinton White.

Not the hairstyle, the fish.

White discusses watching a recent mullet run and how it makes the river appear to be “boiling” as the fish break the surface, as well as their role in the ecosystem and food chain.

“Within seconds, we also became aware that bottlenose dolphin and other unseen predators were feeding on the huge school of fish. What a sight!” White writes. “The dolphin and other fish were herding the mullet into a tight school and then passing through the mass of fish getting their fill for dinner. Birds were hovering over the mass of fish feasting on the bits of fish left by the dolphins.”

Here’s an excerpt from the column:

Mullet are another one of the interesting species of estuarine animals that inhabit the St. Johns River. They are uniquely adapted to live in the constantly changing salinity of the river in Northeast Florida. There are nine different species of mullet, with striped mullet being the most common. But it is also called black mullet, sea mullet, flathead mullet and gray mullet. We also get white or silver mullet and fantailed mullet.

Mullet have a gizzard-like stomach they use to digest the plant material found on the bottom of the river. They are easier to catch using a cast net than with hook and line, but people commonly do both along the banks of the St. Johns.

Striped mullet are the largest of the local species and can reach 18 inches long and weigh 3 pounds. White mullet tend to be smaller and are found in somewhat fresher water. But both species have to leave the estuary in the fall to migrate offshore. There they will spawn, and then the larvae and juveniles will move back into the river in the spring. Shrimp show the same life cycle.

Read the entire column here.

Email A. Quinton White, executive director of Jacksonville University’s Marine Science Research Institute, with questions about our waterways at qwhite@ju.edu. For more on the MSRI, visit ju.edu/msri.