Balao, Hemiramphus balao
The Balao, Hemiramphus balao, whose Spanish common name is aqujeta balao is a species in the family Hemiramphidae, the Halfbeaks, known collectively as pajaritos in Mexico. This fish is also known as the Ballyhoo. Globally, there are ten two species in the genus Hemiramphus, of which three are found in Mexican waters, two in the Atlantic and one in the Pacific.
The Balao has an elongated cylindrical body. They are a dark greenish-black dorsally and silvery ventrally with dark fins. The lower jaw is extended into a long beak; the lower jaw is short and triangular. The tip of the lower jaw and upper lobe of the caudal fin is blue. The head has relatively short beak being 16 – 20% of body length. Their anal fin has ten to thirteen rays, the caudal fin is deeply forked with the lower lobe being larger than the upper lobe, the dorsal fin has eleven to fifteen rays, the pectoral fins are mid-sized reaching past the nasal pit (a key to identification), and the pelvic fins are on the abdomen well back in the body and extend past the dorsal fin origin. They have thirty five to thirty seven gill rakers. The anal and dorsal fins are well back in the body with bases opposite each other. The lateral line is low on the body and they are covered with large smooth scales.
The Balao is an oceanic pelagic species normally found far out at sea on the surface to depths of 20 feet over sandy bottoms. They reach a maximum length of 40 cm (16 inches). They feed on planktonic organisms and small fishes. In turn they are preyed upon by birds, dolphins, dolphinfish, marlins, porpoises, squids, and tuna. Reproduction is oviparous with females releasing large eggs that contain a sticky substance that allows them to attach to floating debris. They are found in all Mexican waters of the Atlantic.
The Balao is most likely confused with the Ballyhoo, Hemiramphus brasiliensis (top lobe of caudal fin orange-red, pectoral fins to not reach nasal pit).
The Balao is an important big game bait fish caught via nets off Southern Florida including the Keys. They are unfriendly to divers and quickly flee. The Balao is a poorly studied species and very little is known about its actual behavioral patterns.