Black Marlin Race from Lizard Island

The First ‘Blacks vs Blues’ Great Marlin Race competition began on Sunday October 2, at the silver anniversary 25th Lizard Island Black Marlin Classic. Five Wildlife Computers pop-up satellite archival tags were sponsored by Australian angler Peter Teakle and deployed on black marlin over the two weeks following the launch of the tournament. Each tag was programed to remain on the marlin for 120 days, recording information about depth, temperature and light.

This data, combined with a very accurate clock, can be used to calculate the marlin’s position each day of its journey. At the end of the deployment period the tags are programed to release themselves from the fish, float to the surface, and relay summaries of the data they collected to orbiting satellites.

In case you missed our updated in the past issue of BlueWater, the first tag was deployed on October 4 on a 900lb monster caught by angler Andrey Grigoriev fishing on Moana III. Tag two went out the next day on a 250-pounder caught by Phil Scott on Reelistic. October 6 saw a third tag deployed on another big 850lb girl, caught by Chris Caron on Castille III. Tags four and five went out the following week; tag four on a 200lb fish caught by Parke Berolzheimer on Allure, and tag five went on a giant, a 900lb fish caught by Bill Borkan on Castille III.

Over the months that followed all five tags successfully released and reported their data to the laboratory at Stanford University. The first tag, from Fish One, reported from 494km east of Lizard Island 78 days after deployment. The Fish Two tag reported on January 8 from the middle of Papua Gulf, 619km from where it was tagged. On January 10, the tag from Fish Five reported from 5073km away, off Phoenix Island in the South Pacific. The last two tags both surfaced exactly 120 days after deployment; on February 3 the Fish Three tag reported from a spot 4306km east, on a similar course to that taken by Fish Five. Finally, on February 10 the Fish Four tag surfaced just 378km north of where it was tagged.

“We were really excited to have the opportunity to tag black marlin, which we hadn’t done before,” said Stanford University marine biologist and Great Marlin Race co-founder Dr Randy Kochevar, “Not to mention that we are adding a whole new continent to our study sites!”

As in other Great Marlin Race events, the differences in behaviour among individual marlin was interesting. Two of the five fish made incredibly long trips east into the open ocean, and three others remained within the Coral Sea. This difference may be related to size, as both of the long-distance fish were large females (850 and 900 pounds); but the other large female (Fish One) took a different course, initially going to the north-east coast of Papua New Guinea, then to the Solomon Islands, and ultimately returning to the waters off the coast of Cairns.

“With only five tags having been deployed,” said Kochevar, “we just have a first glimpse of the things we might learn in this study.” However, the success of this initial effort suggests that Lizard Island may hold promise as a venue for upcoming IGFA Great Marlin Race events.

“We are really excited by the results so far from Lizard Island, and we look forward to working with the tournament organisers to develop an IGMR event there in the coming year,” said Jason Schratwieser, the IGFA Conservation Director and co-founder of the IGFA Great Marlin Race. “The more tags we can deploy, and the more places we can deploy them, the more we stand to learn about these amazing animals.”