The Fish Story

AD/HD Bluefish Know No Boundaries; Even Great Whites Have Real Bad Days

By JAY MANN | Jul 11, 2018

I’ve been bending over backward looking for upside angling things. The most I could find – without going offshore fishing – is some so-so-ness, with moderate-at-best hooking on the fluke front, our only viable fishery for many weeks to come.

Of bait note: There currently seems to be a grass shrimp no-show, bayside LBI. This wouldn’t be the first time a low grass shrimp year gets thrown into the hit-or-miss marine environmental mix. Importantly, any decline in the bay shrimp population – either grass shrimp or related sand shrimp – could not be from overharvesting. With weakfishing and blackfishing so curtailed, the demand for grassies as bait has dropped almost clean out of sight. Only a scant few folks still use them to chum for stripers around Barnegat Inlet.

There was a spattering of cocktail/tinker/eater bluefish caught; nothing to send a postcard home about. What’s more, the rapidly warming ocean, inlet and bay water has driven the spring bluefish northward. The few blues being caught now are very thin, meaning they are likely just pulling into town from as far away as Timbuktu – or farther.

WHITHER GOETH BLUEFISH: Research on bluefish, which had been hot and heavy in the 1990s, has faded fast. Now, the world wide web offers some anecdotal year-round insights into the sometime wacky and wherever movement of bluefish schools. It leaves little doubt that these ravenous predators cover some serious ground. As to where they go in the winter …

I’m second-guessing theories that place a massive overwintering biomass of blues no farther away than the Carolinas and a bit southward. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission reports, “In winter (bluefish) tend to be found offshore between Cape Hatteras and Florida … with schools that can cover tens of square miles of ocean, equivalent to around 10,000 football fields.”

It’s an impressive perception, to be sure, but I’ll beg to moderately differ. There’s simply no picturing such an AD/HD species just slamming on the brakes to settle down – or even slow down – for a lengthy winter hiatus … anywhere. It’s just not in their genes. I’m sure that a beauty of a bluefish biomass annually has a showy gathering right where the commission suggests, but I’ll bet the bay barn that a ton of them are quickly off to parts truly unknown. I’ll reluctantly go quite trite by offering the maxim that we know more about the surface of the moon than we know about our oceans … and what swims where and when within them.

How far afield might bluefish travel? I’ll seemingly compare apples and orange roughy by referencing a hefty gal named Lydia, who has offered researchers deep insights into fishes making entire Atlantic crossings.

Per news.nationalgeographic.com,  “Ever since researchers tagged a great white shark nicknamed Lydia off Jacksonville, Florida, in March 2013, they’ve been keeping a close eye on her. Their vigilance was rewarded … when the 14-foot fish became the first great white observed to cross the Atlantic Ocean.”

I must duly note that Lydia is one hell of a global-gliding gal. She has made history. At pri.org, Robert Hueter, director of the Center for Shark Research at Mote Marine Laboratory, was interviewed. He said, “She’s traveled almost 36,000 miles on a journey ... up and down the coast, throughout the northwestern Atlantic, and even crossing over the mid-Atlantic ridge.”

For me, it’s not over-stretching it to use Lydia as a rough demonstration that even slower-moving species can make the big oceanic journey from continent to continent – knowing there are speedy pelagic species that can make the trip in just a few days.

Back to apples, I believe amped-up bluefish, despite their somewhat diminutive size, are among species that routinely take on some long – even ocean transiting – hibernal hauls. Such trips suck their body fat like a natural liposuction machine. It might very well be the bluefish travel lust that has our spring bluefish arriving so emaciated. It sure isn’t from idly hanging out for months near the Bermuda Triangle. That’s not to propose that bluefish annually do an oceanic dash over to, say, the Dark Continent. At the same time, if they collect frequent swimmer miles, it’s a world cruise in first-class luxury.

ON A GW ROLL: Sharkily backing up a bit, there was quite a buzz down in Aussieland when a prized and well-tagged 9-foot great white was, shockingly, fully and mysteriously consumed at sea. Even the tracking device it was wearing went down the gullet of some beastly creature that dined upon the not-as-apex-as-thought tagged shark.

The swallowed tracking device, known as a Popup Archival Transmitting tag, was apparently upchucked, washing up on the nearest beach. It bore a bizarre data-tale within.

A PAT is a tracking device akin to an aeronautic black box. It steadily records info on temperature, depth and light intensity, as the wearer goes through its everyday activities. At a pre-programmed time, the PAT automatically separates from the host, floating to the surface. It then transmits its stored data to circling Argos satellites. That programmed PAT release-point can apparently be one upped … by a monstrously mouthed thing.

As word got out about the scarfed-down 9-foot great white, theories on the eater went gonzo. How had such a thought-apex predator been so gruesomely one-upped, apexically speaking? Guesses ranged from a deranged killer whale (a good guess, by the way) to a deep-water prehistoric creature to, expectedly, any number of famed Japanese sci-fi creatures.

The release of the PAT’s data added fuel to the freak-out fire. It creepily established the doomed and downed shark’s final moments – and even beyond.

James Baker at Gizmodo.com highlighted the mystery, writing, “The recovered tracking device showed a rapid temperature rise and a sudden 1,900-foot-deep plunge. It stayed there for many days, moving around and occasionally ascending to go down again until it finally reached the shore. That’s all the information that scientists gathered from the tracking device. … Researchers believe the data shows that a super-predator gobbled the shark, then swam down at high speed, and kept going on with his life.”

After careful forensics-like data crunching, cooler scientific minds inched out the mindset of science fiction double-feature fans. Evidence soon pointed to a double-bad-ass great white … one obviously inclined to dine on one of its own kind. The cannibalistic Carcharodon had to be 17-foot-plus and weighing in at well over a ton – and a goodly amount more immediately after that meal.

A just-captured dialogue between great whites, detected in the exact area of the attack, offers some keen insights into the incident:

“Hey, Ellen, do I look like I’m getting fat to you? Be honest.”

“Oh, Matilda, please! We both know you’re simply big cartilaged. And tell me you’re not seriously thinking about what that anemic 9-footer yelled down at you the other day – you know, right before you …” (Transmission lost.)

Hey, did I mention we barely know anything about what goes on in the ocean?

Getting more sciency, it’s more likely that the bigger shark ate the littler one because, well, it could. Sharks eat sharks. Take, for instance, our growingly common sand tiger shark, which adores dogfish, a small member of its own family. That might explain why tootharific sandbar sharks are getting more plentiful, having more than enough dogfish to down – coupled with the immense degree of protection they’re now getting from mankind.

Going off on my own, I wonder if that tracking device played a role in the demise of the tagged great white. Even though it was merely gathering data – and wasn’t merrily pinging away, as many other tracking devices do – it had to emit some sort of subtle buzz. We know the ability of sharks to feel buzzes equivalent to those produced by a sip of wine.

Scientists will balk at any complicity in the shark’s passing, not wanting to jeopardize their highly cool shark-tagging jobs. That’s understandable. There’s an easy solution: tag only the biggest and baddest-assed great whites. That might even save the lives of smaller great whites.

“Hold up! Is that the hum of Mary Lee? Swim away! Swim away!”

By the by, Mary Lee is now well over 3,500 pounds and possibly pushing 17 feet in length. She’s surely far bigger than Matilda. We simply have smarter 9-footers in the Atlantic.

BEAR WITH ME: It’s hard to shake this shark theme, especially after reading this dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech headline out of Africa: “A FOURTH great white shark is found dead after its liver was removed ‘with surgical precision’ in latest sign that killer whales are targeting the fish for the nutrient-rich organ.”

The accompanying story showed photos of South African great whites incised by killer whales displaying a cutting acuteness and accuracy unseen since the days of Dr. Christiaan Barnard. (Just Google it.)

The orcas, the largest member of the known-talented dolphin family, were skillfully opening the sharks at the exact body points adjacent to the livers. In one case, the perfectly straight incision was barely a foot long, just long enough for the orca to nose in and cleanly bite out the desired organ.

Killer whales want shark livers for their high squalene content. Squalene is a somewhat mysterious organic compound. All plants and animals, including humans, produce it, attesting to its importance. It seems orcas require the extra squalene, much to the displeasure of suddenly liverless great whites.

GREETINGS AND SALUTATIONS, BENCHTOPPERS: Now and again – which isn’t nearly often enough – I throw in a plug for our incomparable LBI beach patrols, trickling down praise to every guy and gal lifeguard. Our Island guards are as good as they come … anywhere.

With very little fanfare or backslapping, those benchtoppers have already made a remarkable number of what we used to call “runs” – better envisioned as “rescues” or “saves.” There have been single-day tallies of 15 or more rescues by guards who had barely settled in for the season. And things are picking up – in a pulling-in way.

With the season’s first hurricane swells now rolling in, water-watching will only get more active and demanding for the guards.

Note: Long- or medium-period swells from tropical systems literally get the entire ocean moving, most noticeably along the shoreline. Such water dynamics instantly spawn rip currents. Rip currents suck, both literally and figuratively.

I’ve long said that as many people die from hurricanes that never hit land as die from those that make landfall. Rip currents are essentially far-reaching killers.

I’m going on my 15th year working rip current duty for the National Weather Service. Despite our issuing daily rip current alerts based on shoreline observations, conditions can turn deadly on a tidal-change dime. While beachgoers need to be in the rip-current know via weather radio, it comes down to guard savvy in noticing changes toward troubled water.

Take lifeguards to heart. They have your better interest – and survival – in their sights.

JUST SAYIN’: A sure sign of serious traffic backups going onto LBI is when that Route 72 digital sign flashing the time it will take to reach the Island … has a date on it.

jaymann@thesandpaper.net

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