Photographer snaps shot of giant school of bait fish spotted in Wallis Lake

Photographer Shane Chalker has lived by the ocean his entire life but never seen anything close to the giant school of bait fish he spotted at the entrance to Wallis Lake on the state's mid-north coast.

Mr Chalker spent his childhood at the lighthouse at Seal Rocks where his father was the head lighthouse keeper and has lived in the Forster-Tuncurry area for the past 30 years.

The former commercial fisherman thought he'd seen everything until he noticed the 200-metre long bait ball moving in the channel near the Forster boat harbour.

The giant school of pilchards at the entrance to Wallis Lake. Photo: Shane Chalker

The giant school of pilchards at the entrance to Wallis Lake. Photo: Shane Chalker

"I've been living by the ocean my whole life and I've never seen anything like this," he said. "It's pretty special. To see them in those sort of numbers is pretty extraordinary."

Shot using a drone, the bait ball looks like an oil slick from above but consists of innumerable pilchards, providing a smorgasbord for other species.

"The thing about pilchards is they are pretty much on the bottom of the food chain," Mr Chalker said.

Predators take advantage of the rich pickings. Photo: Shane Chalker

Predators take advantage of the rich pickings. Photo: Shane Chalker

"They are attracting an incredible amount of bird and marine life which are feeding off them. There have been increased shark sightings and I've seen lots more whales and dolphins."

Small fish such as pilchards and sardines form bait balls as a protective mechanism. They band together to defend themselves against predators as lone fish are more vulnerable than an individual in a large group.

The award-winning photographer posted the pictures to his Instagram page where they have attracted hundreds of likes.