This past week has been a hectic one but fun. The Billfish research team are back in Quepos/Manuel Antonio with Frenzy Sportfishing, with some tags to put out as part of a study on Sailfish movement around the area. The idea is to answer the inevitable question, where do they go when they are not here? Each year we have progressed with the project and the tagging techniques and data recording has got better, quicker and more efficient. This year, with six tags to put out we started the week with a rehearsal day, just to get the team back working together. The first day out, with the tags to deploy was on the Tuesday. We unfortunately had a super quiet day with just one sailfish tagged. It could only get better at this point. Second day we headed out was the Thursday. A super quiet morning started to have the crew worried, but with a bite at 12.30pm we had the tag in.
One thing we decided to try differently this year was the swimming release of the fish. The sailfish like many big pelagic fish, needs to continually swim to breathe by passing the oxygen over its gills. When they are tagging the fish, time is crucial, and as divers, we need to get into the water quickly to start swimming with it, making sure it swims away okay. As the fish is being tagged, it is being held alongside the boat, with the boat moving, so it can breath. We enter the water and start swimming with the fish, noting, behaviors, color change, depth, temperature of water and time. All of this data can be used to learn important information about the sailfish. The afternoon keep getting better and by 3pm we had another two tags in, the last two, coming so quickly that we had just got out of the water before having to jump back in. For me personally, I really enjoy looking at the behavior of the fish, and being part of a study that is breaking new ground is exciting.
On our last day out, we headed out hopefully with the last two tags to deploy. As soon as we put out the teasers the ocean was alive. Bait ball!! Birds and dolphins everywhere, just what we wanted. Now as a diver, many of you know, this is even more exciting. There is something about jumping into blue water with no bottom in site, surrounded by fish that just gets your adrenaline pumping. What will you see? So we took a moment away from fishing and donned our scuba gear ready to jump. we got as close as we could, in front and jumped. The ocean was alive with the sound of dolphins and the remnants of their bubbles, along with a few floating fish heads were clear in the water. The dolphins were in front so we headed towards them, just then a dark shadow appeared under the boat to my left, and a beautiful manta came through, did a circle around us, and then continued on into the blue. Happy!!
Okay, back to focusing on the job at hand, tagging. We didn’t have to wait very long to get some bites and it was soon back into the water to swim a beautiful sailfish away. The surprising thing was that another manta came in for a visit whilst we were swimming. With the sixth and final tag away it was time to sit back and reflect on a fun day.
This current batch of tags are due to pop up in December, so it will give us a really good idea of their movements throughout the year. I can’t wait to see what we will learn.