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What is a Jubilee (and Where Can You Find One?)

Flounders and crabs and shrimp, oh my, it’s a jubilee.

Perhaps it’s a happy celebration or maybe a song of future happiness. To some, it’s a grand tradition. 

What exactly is a jubilee, and what does it have to do with seafood? We’re about to let you in on an amazing secret. 

Let’s jump in! 

What is the Original Meaning of Jubilee?

A jubilee conjures in the imagination a time of celebration or abundance. The concept has religious origins. 

In the Bible’s Old Testament, every seven years, a jubilee provided a structure for land management. People would abstain from farming to let the land rest. 

Seven years also marked a time to cancel debts and release enslaved Hebrews. Furthermore, every 50th year was a time when Hebrew slaves were set free, and their lands returned to them. 

A jubilee was also a religious song enslaved African Americans sang. It usually refers to a time of future happiness free from oppression. 

Over time, jubilees took on a broader significance. In the United Kingdom, royal jubilees became an opportunity to celebrate the life and long reign of a monarch. 

Her late majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, celebrated an amazing 70-year reign. Crowds throughout the commonwealth celebrated her Platinum Jubilee with parties and activities of traditional significance. 

Two Places in the World Call This a Jubilee

The origin of jubilee is Latin, meaning “to shout for joy.” On the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay, Alabama, locals and newcomers alike are jubilant to see an unusual phenomenon. The congregation of watery creatures in the shallows along the bay’s shores is a jubilee. 

When a jubilee happens, bottom-dwelling creatures like blue crabs and flounders gather along the shoreline. In the summertime, residents scoop up the seafood while avoiding the other lurkers like catfish and eels. 

Basically, pockets of oxygen-poor water exist under certain natural summertime conditions. These include the amount of salinity from the Gulf, freshwater from rivers, and microorganisms consuming oxygen. Jubilees happen as anoxic pockets of water move shoreward, forcing bottom-type fish and crustaceans to the beach. 

Due to the lack of oxygen, these jubilee-affected fish and shellfish are sluggish. They’re easy to scoop up until the sun rises and causes photosynthesis to bring a little O2 back to the water. 

The estuarine jubilee phenomenon occurs in other places in the world. However, the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay is probably the only place where jubilees regularly happen each summer. And they’re also somewhat predictable. 

About Mobile Bay and Its Jubilee

Coastal Alabama receives river water from throughout two-thirds of the state as well as portions of Georgia, Tennessee, and Mississippi. When these waters mix with the salty water of the Gulf of Mexico, we get an estuary. That’s the Mobile Bay and Mobile Tensaw Delta. 

Estuaries are teaming with life, and so is true for Mobile Bay. Inhabitants of the area go back thousands of years, living off the bounty of the water. Early news accounts of a seafood jubilee go back to the 1860s. 

In fact, the Mobile Daily Register announced on July 17, 1867, “EXCITEMENT AMONG THE FISH—Yesterday all the fish in the bay seemed to be making for the Eastern shore. Large numbers of crabs, flounders and other fish were found at the water’s edge and taken out of the wet.”

The report continued, “They were counted by the bushel. Annually this phenomenon occurs with the fish along the Eastern shore. They all appear to forsake the deep water, and swim and cluster in immense numbers to the shore.” 

Old-timers know to look for just the right signs; a gentle east breeze, recent rain, a rising salty tide, and the calm, dark, quiet hours of the early morning. 

Despite this, it’s a guessing game, and you can wait all night for nothing to happen. No one knows exactly what area on the beach the next jubilee will occur.

What Else Is There To Do Near Mobile Bay?

Mobile, Alabama, is a quick jump to several coastal destinations. It’s an easy two-and-a-half to three-hour interstate drive to New Orleans and all its cultural haunts. 

A day trip to Biloxi, Mississippi, and the gambling boats is sixty miles one way. If you have military in your family, the Navy’s Blue Angels home is also a sixty-mile drive to the east in Pensacola, Florida. 

But let’s stay close to Mobile Bay and see some of the fantastic things coastal Alabama offers. 

Visit Fairhope

Fairhope, Alabama, is one of the sweetest towns you’ll ever have the pleasure of walking through. Accommodations include traditional motels and a variety of AirBnBs. Fairhope is an easy place to get around on foot so bring your walking shoes. 

Arrive in time for Mardi Gras and enjoy the safety of carnival season along the Eastern Shore. Fairhope is beautiful with its trees and city landscaping. Spring is the perfect time to see all that blooms in the South and attend the famous Arts and Crafts Festival held in March.

Are you an outdoor enthusiast or a shopper? Fairhope has something to offer for both. Quaint shops and delicious restaurants are an easy stroll around town. 

If you enjoy walking, running, biking, sailing, or other outdoor activities, the trails and parks are easily accessible with amazing views. 

There’s so much more. But we challenge you to walk down to the big pier over Mobile Bay. Let us know how you make it back up that steep hill. 

Tour the USS Alabama and the National Maritime Museum of the Gulf of Mexico

The USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park is a popular landmark along the causeway spanning Mobile Bay between Mobile and Baldwin Counties. The World War II battleship is a remarkable piece of history. You won’t regret visiting the “Mighty A” or “Heroine of the Pacific.”

You can also explore the ship and the submarine, USS Drum. Admire the aircraft pavilion and try out the simulator. And you can pay your respects at the Korean and Vietnam War memorials, including one to war dogs. 

The park is an excellent location for a picnic. Or enjoy a meal at one of the fabulous locally-owned establishments nearby. 

The USS Alabama is easily a day excursion. But just under the tunnel, on the other side of the Mobile River, you’ll find GulfQuest. It’s the National Maritime Museum dedicated to the historical, cultural, and economic significance of the Gulf of Mexico. 

The museum’s design looks like a huge ship. Popular exhibits include the suspended Earth simulations with Science On a Sphere. 

Additionally, you can take the helm of a model pilot boat. With three levels of exhibits, you won’t get bored.

Explore Dauphin Island

Dauphin Island, Alabama, is a laid-back island treat. Alabama’s only barrier island is three miles south of the mouth of Mobile Bay in the Gulf of Mexico. You’ll know you’re there when you crest the three-mile-long high-rise bridge. 

The island has everything you’d expect, from white sand beaches to biking trails to bird watching without all the crowds. RVers will love the natural setting of the Dauphin Island Campground. It even has a fish cleaning pavilion for your catch of the day. 

The Alabama Aquarium is a popular attraction on the island. Visitors get the opportunity to touch live stingrays and horseshoe crabs. 

History buffs will enjoy exploring Fort Gaines. Stand behind a cannon and imagine guarding the entrance to the Bay. There’s plenty of room for kids to run around and explore. 

Is Heading to Mobile Bay for Jubilee Worth It?

If you’re headed to Mobile Bay just to see a jubilee, chances are dicey that you’ll actually see one. People living in the area all their lives rarely, if ever, experience one. You may come away sorely disappointed. 

However, if you keep an open mind and enjoy the other attractions the area offers, the trip could be well worth it. And you never know; you might get lucky and see that elusive jubilee.

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