It’s the viral photo that goes around several times a year of the most epic flounder congregation in shallow water ever photographed. And, here’s the why – it’s called Jubilee.
Jubilee is the name used locally for a natural phenomenon that occurs sporadically on the shores of Mobile Bay, a large body of water on Alabama’s Gulf Coast. During a jubilee many species of crab and shrimp, as well as flounder, eels, and other demersal fish will leave deeper waters and swarm—in large numbers and very high density—in a specific, shallower coastal area of the bay. A jubilee is a celebrated event in Mobile Bay, and it attracts large crowds, many drawn by the promise of abundant and easy-to-catch seafood.
Although similar events have been reported in other bodies of water, Mobile Bay is the only place where the regular appearance of this phenomenon has been documented.
The Mobile Bay jubilee typically takes place at least annually, and sometimes several times per year; years without a jubilee have been recorded, but they are exceedingly rare. Many accounts of the jubilee exist, the oldest dating back to the 1860s.
The size, scope, and duration of the jubilee can vary greatly. Sometimes a 15-mile (24 km) stretch of coast representing most of the eastern shore can be affected, and at other times the extent can be limited to as little as 500 feet (150 m) of coastline. Most jubilees happen in the pre-dawn hours.
The large volume of crustacean and fish that a jubilee can produce is hard to overstate; author Archie Carr comments, “At a good jubilee you can quickly fill a washtub with shrimp. You can gig a hundred flounders and fill the back of your pickup truck a foot deep in crabs.”
In addition to the sheer mass of the animals present, harvesting them is made considerably easier by the effect that the oxygen deprivation has on the animals. Their behavior has been described as “depressed and moribund”, or “unnatural”; crabs are observed “climbing tree stumps to escape the water” and flounder “slither up the banks.”
While the occurrence of jubilees in Mobile Bay predates European settlement in the region, it is unknown exactly when or how these events came to be known by this name. The first recorded printed use of the term “jubilee” in this context was in the Mobile Daily Register (now the Mobile Press-Register) on July 29, 1912:
|“||…Hundreds of live sea crabs and fish… completely covered the beach at Point Clear and Zundels Sunday morning. A fisherman of experience in explaining the unusual occurrence stated that it was a “jubilee“… People who saw the wild scramble of fish and crabs on the sandy beach say they won’t soon forget the sight.||”|
|— Mobile Daily Register, July 29, 1912|