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The Sardine Catch

When I jumped out of our vehicle and starting walking towards a flock of frenzied seagulls, I wondered if I was destined for a fate similar to Tippi Hedren in the Hitchcock thriller The Birds. My guide, Abudullah al Shuhi, reassured me that the seagulls signaled a rare site—a sardine catch. The seagulls were after the fish, not me.

Abdullah explained that each coastal town has a designated lookout person for sardines, whose silver glint is unmistakable as a school approaches the surface of the water. Today was a lucky day for the small village of Taqah. The sardines were shoaling close to shore.

When sardines are spotted, the men from town drive or run to the water's edge and get to work. Some men throw out a net. Others struggle to keep the net in place, trapping the sardines as they swim into it. The fishermen scoop the captured sardines into bags and haul them back to town.

The seagulls see the catch as a fine opportunity to fill their bellies. As the fishermen are hard at work, every local seagull swoops down to grab sardines. Meanwhile, the poor sardines are frantically trying to get away from the nets and the birds. The fish jump out of the water, and even swim directly to the shore.

I got as close as I could to the activity, even standing in the water. Bird wings grazed my head while sardines slapped against my ankles.

All this activity took place in the Muslim country of Oman—a country where I was told to be careful about taking photographs of people. (Most people do not want their photograph taken, especially women.) But the sardine catch created a festive mood, so photography was okay. A few fishermen asked me to take their photos, others gave me a thumbs up, and one man stuck out his tongue in jest.

I amused the fishermen as much as they amazed me. I didn't know whether to take video or stills, so I took both. At one point I squatted to get a sea-level view of the activity. Then a wave swamped me. We all laughed as bag after bag of sardines were hauled off to town.

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