Balao, Hemiramphus balao

The Balao, Hemiramphus balao, whose Spanish common name is aqujeta balao is a species in the Halfbeak or Hemiramphidae Family, known collectively as pajaritos in Mexico. This fish is also known as the Ballyhoo. Globally, there are ten species in the genus Hemiramphus, three of which are found in Mexican waters, two in the Atlantic and one in the Pacific.

The Balaos have elongated cylindrical bodies. They are dark greenish-black dorsally and silvery ventrally with dark fins. Their lower jaw extends into a long beak whereas their lower jaw is short and triangular. The tip of their lower jaw and the upper lobe of their caudal fin are blue. Their beak is 16 to 20% of body length. Their anal fin has ten to thirteen rays; their caudal fin is deeply forked with the lower lobe being larger than the upper lobe; their dorsal fin has 11 to 15 rays; their pectoral fins are mid-sized reaching past the nasal pit (a key to identification); and their pelvic fins are on the abdomen well back on the body and extend past the dorsal fin origin. They have 35 to 37 gill rakers. Their anal and dorsal fins are well back on the body with bases opposite each other. Their lateral line is low on the body and they are covered with large smooth scales.

The Balaos are an oceanic pelagic species normally found far out at sea found on the surface over sandy bottoms at depths up to 20 feet. They reach a maximum length of 40 cm (16 inches). They feed on planktonic organisms and small fish. In turn they are preyed upon by birds, dolphins, dolphinfish, marlins, porpoises, squids, and tuna. Reproduction is oviparous with females releasing large eggs containing a sticky substance that allows the eggs to attach to floating debris.  They are a poorly studied species and very little is known about their behavioral patterns.

In Mexican waters the Balaos are found in all waters of the Atlantic.

The Balao is most likely confused with the Ballyhoo Halfbeak, Hemiramphus brasiliensis (orange-red top caudal fin lobe; pectoral fins not reaching nasal pit).

The Balaos are an important big game bait fish caught via nets off southern Florida including the Keys. They are unfriendly to divers and flee quicky.

Balao, Hemiramphus balao. The pictured fish was an interesting find in Los Cabos waters, Baja California Sur. It showed up one morning in the Panga frozen and packaged in plastic labeled “Ballyhoo. Packaged in Pompano Beach, Florida.” Length: 25 cm (10 inches).