Mugil cephalus and Mugil curema
Visitors to Tampa Bay (and even some locals) get plenty of free entertainment on the water when they see fish jumping. Of course, the first question is "what kind of fish are they?" and the second is "why do they do that?" The answer to the first question is easy: they are mullet. The answer to the second question has baffled mankind for ages.
The two most common species of mullet in Florida are the striped mullet (Mugil cephalus) and white mullet (Mugil curema). The striped mullet is commonly called a black mullet, gray mullet or jumping mullet and the white mullet is called a silver mullet. Mullet swim in large schools and are commonly seen jumping out of the water, hence the name jumping mullet.
Striped mullet can be found nearly anywhere in tropical and subtropical coastal waters and estuaries. It's almost a given you'll see those amazing jumping mullet while fishing, paddling or just relaxing dockside throughout Tampa Bay. When fully grown, striped mullet average around 14-17 inches in length, but have been noted up to 20 inches. Mullet feed on aquatic plants and algae found floating, attached to the bottom or mixed in with surface sediments.
Common predators include birds of prey such as eagles and osprey (easy pickings when the fish are jumping!), wading shorebirds, and larger fish such as bull sharks and porpoises. It's a plentiful fish since the Florida constitutional amendment that took effect on July 1, 1995, which eliminated entangling nets and placed additional restrictions on netting in Florida's marine waters. However, fishing for mullet is still allowed with a handheld cast net, and is a popular pastime from many from area piers and bridges. Around Tampa Bay, it's not uncommon to find smoked mullet fish spread on the menu at tiki bars and waterside restaurants. Give it a try on Saltine crackers for a true "Florida Cracker" delicacy!
There are a few theories about why mullet jump out of the water. Some say it's because they're avoiding predators, while others say they're jumping to catch and eat algae floating on the surface of the water. Others say they are trying to knock off small parasites, while some scientific evidence suggests they do so to take in air.
Whatever the reason the mullet jump, they will never cease to have entertainment value!