Monday, July 28, 2014

IGFA Great Marlin Race Gets Off to a Roaring Start

Today marks the opening day of the 55th Annual Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. It is also the sixth year for the Great Marlin Race, which was launched here in celebration of the HIBT's 50th Anniversary.

As the teams started arriving at the "Shouting Room" (a giant open-air tent where the angling teams assemble before and after fishing), the IGFA's Eric Combast and I knew that we had our work cut out for us. We had lined up sponsors for 4-1/2 of the 10 tags we had with us, and being optimists, we brought 6 down.

Within minutes, Whangaroa Billfish Club's Keith Allan stepped forward and offered to sponsor a tag to send out with his lovely wife Janice. I was happy to oblige, and glad to have their continued support in this year's race.

I set up tags for Rocky Franich from the Pajaro Valley Game Fish Club, Ralph Czabayski of the Game Fishing Club of South Australia, and last year's winning team of Mitchell and Marty Firestein, who are fishing this year as part of the Laguna Niguel Billfish Club.

Marty Firestein shows off his new IGMR lure while Mitch looks on.

I had the pleasure of getting on Humdinger with co-founders of the Great Marlin Race, Bob and Sally Kurz, also with Laguna Niguel. It was just coming up on 10 AM when a nice 250 lb. blue came up on the short rigger. Sally was in the chair and watched this great fish grayhound across the surface about 50 yards off the stern. Once she dove, though, the fight was on. Sally settled in for a tough battle, gaining only six inches of line at a time. 

Sally Kurz battles a nice blue while husband Bob (left) and deckhand Brett Fay (right) provide support. 

After more than an hour, deckhand Brett Fay leadered the marlin alongside the boat, setting up Bob Kurz for a perfect shot with the tag. Moments later she was away, swimmimng strong.

As it turned out, this was actually the second satellite deployed so far today - the first being the one Keith Allan sponsored this morning, which was placed on a marlin while Sally was battling hers.

This is a fantastic start to the event, and hopefully marks the beginning of a great week. Keep checking back! 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Success in Chagos!

Team Chagos, composed of scientists from our very own TRCC, Australia and the UK have completed their deployments of new Vemco receivers and Wildlife Computers satellite tags.

Today we have completed the installation of a network of underwater receivers that will provide both real time updates and the capacity to monitor this - the largest Marine Protected Coral Reef Atoll in the world. Our "Wired Ocean" concept is now allowing the international team to follow the reef ecosystem in real time, and over the next decade.  The first ocean observation devices have also been installed providing oxygen and temperature measurements that should enable initiation of long term climate data.

Thanks to our the crew and the scientists, along with the Bertarelli Foundation and Rolex, for helping to make this transfer of technology happen!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Deployments Under Way in Chagos

Dr. Taylor Chapple (right) tests a newly-placed buoy
The team is deploying and testing a series of buoys capable of detecting tagged sharks and uplinking to orbiting Iridium satellites. These buoys are large and challenging to install in this remote location.

With back up assistance from Amirix and back and forth with our California team, Dr. Taylor Chapple, Robbie Schallert and  the multi-national expedition have succeeded in deploying and testing these biological ocean observation tools. Now as sharks swim by, we will be able to monitor their movements at two points - moving in and out of the largest atoll in the world, Peros Banhos.

At other locations we have placed four underwater VR4 UM monitors that will provide the capacity to monitor and uplink shark movements to a surface modem.

Aaron Carlisle, Dave Tickler, John Dale,  and the crew have worked together to place 44 underwater monitors that are “marine animal detectors” at key locations between two atolls (Peros Banhos and Salamon Islands) providing extensive coverage of the region.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Expedition Chagos - March 24

A "shark-eye" view of the reef, from a camera on a grey reef shark
Dr. Taylor Chapple and team have successfully deployed the CATS camera tag on a grey reef shark and the view below of the Chagos is stunning! These tags are put on for short durations by attachment to the dorsal fins. The grey reef has recorded several hours of footage and this snapshot provides a “shark-eye” view of the coral paradise called home.
(L-R) Dave Tickler, Aaron Carlisle and Taylor Chapple on the fantail

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Expedition Chagos - March 23

Aaron and Dave working hard
The team in the Chagos (scientists from Stanford, University of Western Australia, London Zoological Society) have had a very successful research trip thus far- placing over 30 acoustic tags in sharks, and recovering the data from an extensive VR2w network we placed in the Chagos over a year ago. The great news is the receivers have recorded excellent data. 

Currently the team is at Salomon Atoll, where we’re recovering a VR4 Global, to rebattery and reposition, and then placing VR4 Ums near the Channel. Our on board team has been very successful tagging grey reef sharks and silvertips. They report easily placing the acoustic tags into 10 sharks over at Salomon Atoll and 20 over at Peros Banhos.  The placement of the tags at the two atolls, separated by over 30 km, will help discern the connectivity between the two regions. VR4 Globals, which have been in place for over a year, are now getting fresh batteries, new flotation collars and beefed-up moorings. Soon we’ll be hearing from these shark in the Indian ocean

The arrival of the tagging gear was a celebrated event

Friday, March 14, 2014

VR4 Global Acoustic Receivers Around the Globe

A VR4 Global buoy floats off the Central California coast to detect white sharks and other tagged predators swimming past
 The ROLEX and Bertarelli Foundation  funded VR4 Global acoustic receivers, coupled with our surface buoys, have provided a remarkable capacity to detect white sharks, mantas, and grey reef sharks in the Chagos Archipeligo. The system has proven robust as we've deployed it in a variety of ocean conditions around the globe- in our efforts to improve the capacity to do ocean observations from remote locations.

One of our VR4 Global buoys arrives in the Maldives, to detect predators around the Chagos Archipelago
The picture above shows the arrival of the VR4 Global from the white shark network in the Maldives, where our team will deploy the buoys for remote detection in the Chagos Archipelago. The expedition is being led by Taylor Chapple, Aaron Carlisle, Robbie Schallert, Jon Dale and Dave Ticker. This Stanford US/Australia team is also accompanied by BIOT researchers from London. We look forward to hearing from the team as they deploy a network of receivers, and tags in one of the most remote locations on the planet!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Epic Tagging

Dr. Steve Wilson and Robbie Schallert tag a giant bluefin
in Port Hood, Nova Scotia

The TAG team is up in Canada where we’ve had an epic 5 days of nonstop bluefin tagging.  I’m Ethan Estess from the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Stanford University’s Tuna Research and Conservation Center, here with TAG scientists Robbie Schallert and Dr. Steve Wilson of Stanford University. We came to Port Hood, Nova Scotia on September 27th to work with Mike Stokesbury’s team from Acadia University to study giant bluefin in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. 

TAG team Dr. Steve Wilson, Robbie Schallert (center), and Cpt. Dennis Cameron (at head irrigating the gills)

We awoke on the 28th to flat calm seas and sunny skies. The Tag-A-Giant team headed out with Captain Dennis Cameron and Craig of the Bay Queen IV and Bernie and Steve of the Carrie Anne.  The bait had barely hit the water when we hooked up on a giant bluefin tuna.  An hour later the 270cm fish was on the tagging mat and a minute later it was back out the door, outfitted with an acoustic and pop-up archival tag (PAT).  These tags will help unlock the mysteries of bluefin migratory patterns and spawning cycles, providing critical information for their management and conservation.   To date most of these Canadian giants have been tracked to the Gulf of Mexico spawning grounds, but a few (less then 2%) make their way to the Mediterranean Sea.

A giant bluefin being reeled in by the crew of the Bay Queen IV

The bluefin were there in force to feed on the large schools of herring in the region.  We double tagged 6 fish with acoustics and pop-ups, and many of these fish were the largest I've seen.  All of Sunday’s fish were over 260cm, easily weighing 800 pounds or more.  These fish were extremely well fed and very big around!

Measuring the length of a giant bluefin

Over the next 3 days we deployed 14 more electronic tags in perfect fishing conditions.  Cape Breton is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been and we were surrounded by spectacular wildlife.  Hundreds of pilot whales, or “blackfish” as our captain called them, circled our boat throughout.  They were there for the same reason the bluefin were- to feed on the massive schools of herring spawning along the island.   Gannets dive-bombed and grey seals bobbed along with curious glances towards our bait.  One of the highlights of the trip was placing a tag in the largest giant bluefin TAG has ever tagged- a 313cm bluefin we tagged and released.  This behemoth barely fit on the deck of the Day Queen IV.  This fish is surely a spawner, and hopefully its PAT tag will teach us about bluefin spawning locations and behaviors in the Gulf of Mexico.

-Ethan Estess

Surrounded by hungry pilot whales with our other fishing vessel
the Carrie Anne in the background

Cape Breton sunset