By Josh Saunders
FIN-TASTIC footage captures the epic diver selfie in the middle of a fish tornado that’s a 200 strong school.
The rare occurrence happened to Stefano Ulivi who was diving 50 miles off the coast of Azores, Pico Island, when up to 200 giant amberjacks each began to swarm around him.
He had to stay still and hold his breath for up to 50 seconds per breathe and slowly exhale to avoid scaring off the 50-70kg fishes that are normally terrified of oxygen bubbles.
To memorialise the incredible moment, he moved his camera to face him and captured the epic and unusual selfie.
Stefano from Florence, Italy, captured the image at the Princess Alice Bank – an underwater mountain ridge formed from volcanic activity – described as one of the best diving spots in the North Atlantic.
He says to be caught in a fish tornado was an ‘unforgettable’ and made him feel like he was a ‘part of nature’.
Stefano, a videographer, said: “Princess Alice Bank is one of the most beautiful dive spots in the north Atlantic, where you can find devil mobula and giant pelagic fish, at 50 meters down.
“I went down leading my group when I saw them appear one after another, a big shadow appeared and then giant amberjacks.
“When the leader of the group saw me, I don’t know why but he decided to come next to me and all the group did the same – there were between 150 and 200 in total.
“They were closer and closer and when I realized that they were doing the tornado it was already too late.
“Usually when there is a tornado of fish, like in this footage, the diver is not inside the group because it’s so easy to scare the fish with the bubbles.
“But in this case I was holding my breath for as long as possible, trying not to scare them and it was working until I ran out of breath, it was an amazing moment.
“I made sure I only breathed out every 40-50 seconds, holding my breath and realising the air very slowly to create less noise and smaller bubbles.
“It literally felt like I was a part of nature, it was quite amusing too.
“I chose to film it in this way, so that people watching the video could realise what happened, if I was filming only the fish you couldn’t see I was right in the centre of it all.
“Most people say things like, ‘wow man’, ask if I was scared and what it was like, their reactions are always wonderful and full of surprises.
“Usually the diver is out of the tornado of fish so it’s very unusual.”
Stefano goes onto explain that the amberjacks swarmed around choosing them as their protector from larger predators in the ocean.
He added: “Usually pelagic fish use other species to find protection or rest of food around them, so I think that they were trying to do this and chose me as their protection.
“When I saw the first one approach me, I was thinking, ‘Wow, ok the guy is big, another one is coming and another one’ then ‘Ok don’t scare them Stefano’.
“I’m only a little Italian guy 1.70m (5ft 5) tall, so to be part of the group and used as protection like the ‘big guy’ for them was incredible.”