School - shoal

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This page is about a technical distinction in the field of ichthyology (the study of fish) and fisheries. There are separate pages about the meanings of school and the meanings of shoal.

'To school' and 'to shoal' are two verbs used about the behaviour of fish, meaning, broadly, 'to form a group', 'to congregate together'. Non-specialists may use them interchangeably, but specialists should be aware of their differences.

  • 'To shoal' is to form a rather wider grouping, a shoal, which may be formed of individuals of different species. Fish that shoal appear to be forming a socially aware group that remain close to each other. This tends to be the commoner term among speakers of British English who are not specialists in fish or fisheries.
  • 'To school' is to form a more cohesive and apparently purposeful group, a school. This is formed of individual fish, normally of a single species, swimming in the same direction and at the same speed. This tends to be the commoner term among speakers of American English who are not specialists in fish or fisheries.