Monday, September 22, 2008

Birthday Bluefin – August 27, 2008

George Shillinger reports from New Zealand on a birthday outing with the Cerveza 2

Following four back-to back runs on three different vessels, I was craving some rest but anxious to finish the tagging work with our team in Greymouth. I had already extended my trip and could not afford to stay any longer.

Figure 1: The docks at Greymouth (Image: George Shillinger)

I was slated to present at the Biologging 3 Conference in Pacific Grove, CA on September 2, 2008 and had to return the US to prepare my talk.

Figure 2: Biologging 3 Conference Logo (Logo by Kate Spencer)

With good weather still on the horizon, Captain Larry announced that we would be making another quick turnaround in Greymouth. Unfortunately, time was too tight for a dinner reunion with the 4Gs. We had plans to depart the following morning with a group of anglers from Auckland who were eager to assist with the tagging effort. I hurried back to the hotel to organize my gear for tomorrow’s deployment.

Figure 3: Revington’s Hotel – our home base in Greymouth (Image: George Shillinger).

Figure 4: Tim Sippel (left) and George Shillinger (right) work in the “office” at Revington’s Hotel (Image: John Holdsworth).

Figure 5: The Jade Café in downtown Greymouth – a breakfast venue for the tagging team when we are not on the water (Image: George Shillinger).

Fortunately, I was able to make a quick morning visit to the dental office of Dr. Garry Rae. It was my birthday in New Zealand (August 27), and Dr. Rae had kindly promised to repair a crown that I lost while chewing candy on my first Cerveza 2 charter (see blog #1) of the tagging season. Thank you, Garry, for the excellent birthday gift!

Figure 6: George and Dr. Garry Rae at Dr. Rae’s dental practice in Greymouth.

Larry arrived at the docks with positive news from several boats about recent catches of large tuna in the Trench. Although weather reports advised otherwise, the winds had resumed and the weather appeared to be taking a turn for the worse as we headed out over the Bar.

Figure 7: View from the boat while crossing the bar (Image: George Shillinger).

The skies darkened and the winds increased to 20-25 kts as we raced towards the grounds. The sea had turned into a rollicking mass of whitecaps and spray, making for an exceptionally bumpy ride. A few of the passengers hunkered down to absorb the buffeting, laying prone on the cabin floor, while the crew focused on prepping tackle and bait, peeling spuds, and keeping cooking gear from launching across the cabin.

Figure 8: Vessels Cascade (left foreground) and Cova Rose (right foreground) wait with Cerveza 2 for the Vessel Rehua (left background) to pull its hoki bag (Image: George Shillinger).

The first trawler that we encountered upon arriving at the fishing grounds was the NZ trawler, Rehua. Sportfishing vessels, Cova Rova and Cascade joined us, rolling in the swells while we waited for Rehua to pull the bag.

Figure 9: Vessel Cascade in the trough (Image: George Shillinger)

With the bag ascending, Captain Larry positioned the Cerveza alongside the trawler, while Deckies Redz and Josh prepped a hoki bait. Angler Tom Thomson, anxiously manned the chair as the Auckland anglers prepared for battle.

Figure 10: Seals and birds feast on scraps from the hoki bag. (Image: George Shillinger)

Over the course of the next 15 hours, we battled strong winds (20-25 kts), a rising swell (to 3m), and three giant tuna. The bite never slackened, but sadly all three fish were lost (2 broke off at the trace and another when the line snapped) before any tags could be deployed.

We finally deployed our first tag of the trip when angler Tom Thomson succeeded in bringing an estimated 225 kg fish to the boat, after a 3+ hour battle that began in the pre-dawn at 3:55 a.m. Although we captured fleeting glimpses of the trace on several occasions throughout Tom’s fight, the fish repeatedly turned tail at the rail, disappearing into the darkness every time capture appeared imminent. Deckie Redz wired the fish and made good on his promise to present me with a “Birthday Bluefin.”

Figure 11: Sportfishing vessels gather around the NZ Vessel Amaltal Enterprise as she pulls in a loaded bag of hoki. (Image: George Shillinger)

Figure 12: After three lost fish and one tag deployed, Tom Thomson (left), George Shillinger (center) and Tom’s team of anglers take a bluefin home for dinner. (Image: Deckie Redz).

With the first tag of the trip finally deployed, the anglers collectively decided that it was time to take a fish. Three hours later we were on our way home with an estimated 230kg tuna headed for the icebox. Meanwhile, I took advantage of the opportunity to investigate the tuna’s gut contents (filled with hoki bones – no surprise!) and collect tissue and DNA samples.

Figure 13: Hoki bones in the stomach of a giant Pacific (Nothern) bluefin (Image: George Shillinger).

As we headed back towards Greymouth, the crew surprised me with a ice cream birthday cake --- apparently a Kiwi speciality (for kids) --- that generated congratulations and fond memories from all aboard!

Figure 14: Kiwi Style birthday – an ice cream cake from the crew of Cerveza 2 for George Shillinger! (Image: Josh Worthington)

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