Follow 'The Great Marlin Race' Across the Equator

Credit: Kate Spencer, Randy Kochevar via GreatMarlinRace.org

The Pacific blue marlin is one of the largest billfish to swim the open ocean. Just how far can they swim, and where exactly are they going? Scientists are tracking the movements of 10 marlin as part of this year's Great Marlin Race, and showing the results on the Internet. Last year, three marlins swam across the equator, from Hawaii to the Marquesas Islands, a distance of more than 1,850 miles. Researchers with Stanford University, who are tracking the fish, say it's highly unusual for marine mammals to migrate across the equator, due to the region's high-temperature and low-oxygen waters. Not much is known about the migration patterns of marlin, says Randy Kochevar, marine biologist with Stanford University's Hopkins Marine Station. Typically, a fish like the marlin will travel to a particular place to spawn, then spend the rest of the year feeding. But it seems like marlin are constantly spawning as they move from place to place, Kochevar says.

Scientists are using the race to learn more about the basic life history of marlin, says marine biologist George Shillinger. "We want to know where they go to feed and where they go to breed. We want to understand how they use the ocean in which they live and, ultimately, how we can manage their populations to ensure that they remain plentiful."

The Great Marlin Race enlists anglers to sponsor and help attach electronic tags to the fish. This year's Marlin were tagged and released in August during the Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament. The tags will record marlin movements for 120 days, reporting on where they travel, how deep they live and what it feels like in the water (temperature-wise). The tags pop off, float to the surface, and are collected. The marlin that swims the farthest from Kona, Hawaii, wins the race. And the sponsoring angler wins free entry into next year's tourney.

It's a partnership that encourages conservation and support for the research, Stanford officials say. And conservation is needed. According to Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch, blue marlin caught near Hawaii are considered a "good alternative" to other marlin caught out in the Atlantic Ocean, where bycatch is more common.

Check out the Great Marlin Race website to follow the 2010 journey.

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Tags: Fish | Hawaii | Oceans