Editorial: Life in the Bait Ball

Editorial: Life in the Bait Ball

William e. Stein, D.D.S.*:

After spending 42 years as a scuba diver, I am prone to reflect on the many wonders I have seen, and one of them is the “bait ball”.

In 1998 I took my family - Terry and our grown sons Billy and Ben - to Bonaire, our favorite Caribbean island in the Netherlands Antilles. The weather was bad due to some calamity other than “global warming”. It was cold! But this was good. The water was somewhat murky by Caribbean standards, but all kinds of unusual critters showed up on our underwater doorstep.
From our rooms we could see flocks of sea birds attacking what appeared to be a boiling surface of the sea. What we had observed was a “bait ball”. A bait ball consists of thousands, if not millions, of tiny bait fish exactly the size and shape of our “Crappie minnows”. When you first see them underwater they truly look like a massive vortex of roiling fish.

A bait ball attracts the big predators. We watched the smaller “Skip-Jack” tuna give way to the Manta Rays and finally to the biggest fish on earth, the 40-foot Whale Shark, the gentle giant of the sea, who used a dive boat as a blind as she swam up through the members of the bait ball who had taken refuge in the shadow of the dive boat to eat her fill. Yes, I have the video.

I often wonder what it would be like to be a member of the bait ball. Do they take turns swimming at the periphery? “Okay Charlie, I did my 20 minutes, get out there!”
An interesting thing about a bait ball or any other school of fish is that they tend to move in unison as one body, as if they are in their vast numbers trying to bluff their way to safety by appearing to be one huge fish rather than a mob of puny ones.

No matter, they ultimately fail as the big predators come to dine. However, enough of the little critters survive to propagate more bait balls, and so it goes. As in all of life, there is a remnant which may or may not survive to rise again.

The question is: Do you want to live your life as a member of the bait ball or as the whale shark?
This is indeed food for discussion.

What does the bait ball represent? Could it be the people of our great country scurrying around as our rights are picked off by the sharks of the government?

Could the bait ball represent the great mass of dentists who subscribe to the ethical practice of dentistry but are being chewed up by the poor economy and are desperate to pay their bills?

Does the bait ball represent all of the tax dollars dentists put into Minnesota Care and the sharks are the politicians of both parties using them for programs other than health care and certainly not for dental care for the poor as we were promised.

To quote Margaret Thatcher: “Socialism always fails when you run out of other people’s money.”

Or perhaps we are the whale sharks feeding on a big ball of hope that things will change for the better.

There it is, the bait ball, a metaphor for life. You may want to take some time and ponder it and think of your own examples.
Every so often it is good to sit back and think about what’s eating you, just like life in a bait ball.


*Dr. Stein is Executive Editor of Northwest Dentistry. He is a general dentist in private practice in Aitkin, Minnesota, AitkinDent@AOL.com