Friday, December 17, 2010

Nine Tags a Leaping

What an amazing race this has been!!!  We're now 137 days after the first tag was deployed, and we have nine tags that successfully reported in - including a race leader that traveled 2,282 nautical miles to the east, breaking the 2009 winner's distance of 2,225 nautical miles.  (It is worth noting that one marlin tagged in 2009 with a non-race tag actually went a bit further, at 2,651 nautical miles.)

Nine out of ten tags have reported in so far!
I suppose it is fitting for the season that our latest tag came up not far from Christmas Island (although it was actually closer to Washington Island).

So on that note, I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year - in which we will officially declare the winner of our 2010 Great Marlin Race!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

We're in the home stretch!

With just a few weeks to go, we have six tags up and four still in the water.  As we approach the final days of the race, I check the satellite system every day for new pop-ups - hoping that we see a new tag from a marlin that has traveled further than the last one; and when there isn't one, hoping that means the remaining tags are still out there, being carried to still more distant places.  We'll certainly know more in the next few weeks - with the final tags due to pop up by the end of December.

By any measure, this has already been a very successful year - and with luck, the best might be yet to come!  We had great participation in the race, with ten tags sponsored.  We've already received a grant from West Marine for a tag in the 2011 race, and we've been contacted by several other organizations expressing an interest in getting involved one way or another.  As we had hoped, it appears that our program is beginning to grow!

Needless to say, none of that would have been possible without the fantastic support the Great Marlin Race has received from everyone involved.  From the folks at the HIBT and our various sponsors, to the anglers, captains and crews to put the tags out, to the data management teams who help us do our work - the GMR simply wouldn't happen without the generous contributions of a great many indivduals.

So for all of you, as we begin the Holiday Season, please accept my warmest wishes and deepest thanks.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Halfway through the Race, and half the tags are up!

The past several weeks have been really amazing here at our lab.  As many of you know, for the past 10 years we have been leading the "Tagging of Pacific Predators" (TOPP) program, which is one of the field programs of the global Census of Marine Life.  Over the past decade the TOPP team has put out more than 4,300 tags on 23 different species of open ocean animals, including whales, sharks, tunas, seabirds, seals, sea lions, turtles and even squid.  We've amassed more than 335,000 days of tracking data - and in the end, we've learned a lot about how the open ocean ecosystem works.  The Great Marlin Race is one of several "TOPP Partner" programs, which have contributed even more data, from a wider variety of species, to the TOPP effort.

Last week in London we celebrated "A Decade of Discovery" in London, with the public roll-out of all the Census findings.  If  you've watched the news at all, you probably saw something about this.  It was really an amazing event, and it has really been an honor to be part of such a monumental scientific achievement.

In case you didn't see the website, we did have a couple more tags pop up since my last update.  We had one tag report from about 775 nautical miles southwest of Hawaii, in the same general vicinity of the two tags that preceded it; and then we had another one show up 1363 nm away - much further east than the other tags we've seen so far.

So we're now roughly halfway through the race, and we've heard from 5 of the 10 tags we deployed.  We're starting to see some interesting tracks from the first three tags, which I'll be sharing with you soon.  And as always, I'll be checking for more tags to come up!

Best wishes,


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Another one?!

It's always a surprise when a new tag comes up  - and the third tag of the race was no exception.  I think the biggest surprise was that it was still so close to Kona.  With all the other marlin we've tagged thus far, by the time they had been at liberty for a month they were at least 500 miles or away.

I want to extend my thanks to the Fish 10 co-sponsors - the Hilton Grand Vacations Club of Japan and the Pajaro Valley Gamefish Club #1.  I'm sorry you didn't win the race, but we sure appreciate your support!

If there is any consolation to be had, I suppose it is that this tag went further than the one the Pajaro Valley guys sponsored last year - which made it only 62 miles, and stayed on for just 8 days.  We're going in the right direction - and 2011 might just be your year!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Two tags are up and the word is out!

It's hard to believe that it's already the middle of September!  Summer is over, kids are back in school, and I'm wishing I were back in Kona!

Fortunately, there are lots of exciting things to share.  First and foremost, we had two tags pop up late last week - both southeast of Hawaii, and in the same region as last year around the same time - 500 and 691 nautical miles from Kona.  As soon as the tags finish sending us their data, and the satellite sea surface temperature readings are all in, we'll be posting tracks for these two tags.  In the mean time, of course, we'll be keeping our eyes open for more tags popping up, and will keep everyone posted.

We've also had some excellent press coverage - with a fantastic article in IGFA's International Angler, as well as Pacific Coast Sportfishing.  And just today the Stanford News Service put together a fantastic piece about the Great Marlin Race - which will likely generate additional press coverage in other places.  Check back on the Media Coverage page to see what other news we've made.

I am also really excited to announce that the Great Marlin Race has just received a Marine Conservation Grant from our friends at West Marine!  They have a long-standing commitment to marine research and conservation, and we are really excited to be working with them to help this program continue to develop and grow.

There are lots of other things in the works - I'll be posting more news here as the details emerge!

Best wishes!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

WHEW! All the tags are out!!!

I just hung up the phone with Bob Kurz, the HIBT event coordinator for the Great Marlin Race.  He let me know that the final tags went out yesterday, just ten days after the tournament ended.  There are now ten tags in the water, and the Great Marlin Race is really under way!

Just to make sure it is clear - each tag is programmed to come up after 120 days at sea, and that clock doesn't start ticking until the tag is actually put on a marlin.  Because the Race is based on which fish travels the furthest from Kona, all ten fish have and equal shot at winning - regardless of whether they were tagged first or last.

For the next few months we'll be checking our systems daily to see if any tags have come up - for as we saw in the 2009 Great Marlin Race, sometimes tags pop up ahead of schedule.  As tags report in and their data are recovered, we'll be updating the site and sending out reports to keep everyone informed of our progress.  Once we've passed the date when the final tags are due up, and there is no possibility of additional tags reporting in (around the end of the year), we'll announce the final results of the Race.

Once again I want to send out a huge thank you to all the sponsors, the anglers and teams, captains and crews and HIBT staff and volunteers who helped make the 2010 Great Marlin Race possible.  This year's race is off to a fantastic start thanks to all of you!

Friday, August 6, 2010

The tournament is over, but the Race is just getting under way

"Stop fishing" call came at 4:30 this afternoon, after a tough week of fishing.  Although several large female blue marlin were caught, anglers were having a tough time finding the large numbers of smaller males that we've seen in years past.  Because these smaller fish (i.e., under 300 lbs.) are quickly tagged and released, they are ideal candidates for the Great Marlin Race.  But even with tags spread out among seven different boats for the past two days, we haven't had any luck getting more tags out.

The good news is that those tags that have already been sponsored will be deployed as quickly as possible in the days ahead, and all of them will remain in the race.  Because the race is about the distance traveled, and all tags are programmed to stay on for the same length of time, everyone still has an equal shot at winning.

Although the fishing was a bit slower this year than last, it was really rewarding to see how much interest has grown in the Great Marlin Race over the past year.  We saw anglers, boat captains and crew members sporting GMR tee shirts and caps, and we had a great turnout for Science Night where George Shillinger and I presented the results from the 2009 Race.  We had several teams sponsor tags for a second time this year, and several other new teams and sponsors get in the Race for the first time.

We are grateful to everyone for their generous support.  HIBT Founder and Director Peter Fithian and all the HIBT staff and volunteers have done an amazing job to make this an incredible event in its 51st year.  The captains and boat crews were generous and accommodating to George and I - who don't tend to travel light between tags, poles, cameras, books, papers and laptops.  And finally the anglers, who are willing to allocate precious time, space and attention to our project in the middle of a major tournament.  You all have our deepest thanks for your patience and support.

This entry wouldn't be complete without a very special thanks to our friends Uki and Masa from the Kona Game Fishing Club Miyake, who endured our company four of the five days of tough, tough fishing.  For their endless patience, good humor and enthusiastic support of the Great Marlin Race, we say  有難うございます。 (Arigatō gozai masu - or "thank you very much.")

We look forward to sharing the unfolding adventure of the 2010 Great Marlin Race.

Tight lines,

Randy and George

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Three Days, Three Tags in the Race

After the first three days of the tournament, three different teams have deployed satellite tags!  Perhaps even more exciting is that we've enjoyed excellent support this year, with many more teams contributing to sponsor tags for the race.

Going into the final two days of the tournament we have six boats carrying satellite tags.  The weather has been beautiful, making for a great couple of days on the water so far.  We have our fingers crossed that the fishing will heat up!

Coming in at the end of our third day of fishing

Monday, August 2, 2010

“ Billfishers, billfishers, billfishers, start fishing, start fishing, start fishing…..!”

The tournament began promptly at 7:30 a.m. this morning, under hazy skies with west winds around 7 mph. Randy and I met the anglers on the docks at 6:30 a.m. to review boat assignments and distribute tagging kits to participating teams.

“And they’re off…!” Sport fishing vessels launching off to chase marlin at the start of the Great Marlin Race

We were assigned to Team #17 - Kona Billfishing Club – Miake, the same team that we joined on the inaugural day of the first Great Marlin race in 2009! Adding to the coincidence, Team Miake was assigned the vessel Rod Bender - the same vessel and skipper (Kerwin Masunaga) from 2009. We were back on the water with our friends, Matsaharu Matsushita (Masa) and Takeo (‘Uki’) Izawa from Japan!
Kona Game Fishing Club – Miake: Uki (left), Masa (center), George Shilllinger (rear), and Rob Kurz (right).

The first fish of the tournament, a shortnose spearfish, was caught and released by angler Hideo Hoshino from the Kona Game Fishing Club-Kusatsu, minutes after the tournament was underway, at 7:50 a.m.

Unfortunately, luck was not on our side on today. After a long day of trolling the waters off Kona, we returned to the docks with all of our satellite tags in hand. In spite of our bad luck, today was still a great day for the HIBT, with 10 blue marlin and
2 shortnose spearfish caught and released.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Kona Comes Out...

The Kona sport fishing community really comes together to support the HIBT event. Flags, banners, and signs about the coming tournament were visible all over town. We donned our Great Marlin Race t-shirts, designed by Bob and Sally Kurz and assembled at the HIBT headquarters to promote the race and take questions. At 10:00 a.m., we joined the teams for the much-anticipated for the much the boat draw --- as they awaited their random assignment to participating sport fishing boats.

Sally Kurz flashes the "Aloha" sign on behalf of the Laguna Niguel Billfish Club #1.

Following the boat draw, we headed to the waterfront to witness the annual HIBT Parade – a signature tournament kickoff featuring all of the HIBT teams, supporters, and local businesses.

Marlin Chasing Bait - One of the many floats in the HIBT 2010 Parade

We devoted the remainder of the afternoon to logistics and tag-sponsorship efforts and by day’s end had secured commitments for four new racers! The HIBT Opening Ceremonies concluded with an introduction to all of the teams (8 countries and four US States) accompanied by an orchestral presentation of national anthems for each country represented in the tournament, followed by a delicious spread of food prepared by local Kona vendors and supporters of the HIBT.

Dr. Randy Kochevar (left) and Dr. George Shillinger (right) hard at work in preparation for the HIBT kickoff!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The anticipation in Kona is palpable...

We arrived at the Kona Airport around 8:00 p.m. and were greeted by the following sign at baggage claim:

"Aloha" from the HIBT to travelers arriving at the Kona Airport.

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Great Marlin Race is About to Begin!!!

After a year of anticipation, Dr. Randy Kochevar and I have returned to Kona, Hawaii to help lead the 2nd Annual Great Marlin Race at the 51st Annual Hawaiian International billfish Tournament (HIBT).

Our mission is to work with HIBT anglers and crews to deploy up to fifteen satellite tags during the next week --- it will be busy week! On average, over the course of the year, Kona recreational boats report a catch rate of approximate one fish per three days of fishing. We expect better odds, however, as the months of June, July, and August are prime time for blue marlin off Kona.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

I can't believe it's just a few weeks away!

Can it possibly be that a year has already passed since we were last in Kona?  But what an amazing year it has been!  At the risk of repeating myself, the results from last year's race were truly amazing - and it was really exciting to see the data coming in as those final tags started transmitting!

In the time since then, our data management team has finished working on a whole new system for analyzing the data that come off these tags.  Using some really sophisticated mathematics, we can now create much more realistic tracks than we could before - and because we now know the statistical error associated with each point along the track, we can also do new kinds of analyses that combine tracks from different types of tags -- which is key to carrying out ecosystem-level studies like we are currently doing in the Pacific.

This new system is a key part of a new Global Tagging of Pelagic Predators (GTOPP) program, which we've been developing for the past year.  Our idea is to open our data system to collaborators all around the planet so we can all share our findings and combine and analyze them in new and different ways -- allowing us to ask and answer questions at a much larger scale than would ever be possible by a single lab working independently.

One of our first proofs of the GTOPP concept happened just a few weeks ago when the renown ocean explorer Dr. Sylvia Earle joined forces with Dr. Eric Hoffmayer from the University of Southern Mississippi to deploy electronic tags on whale sharks in the Gulf of Mexico.  The data from the tags is streaming through the system we developed, and you can follow the sharks from day to day on the new GTOPP website.

In the next couple of weeks we'll be programming all the tags and putting together the rest of the gear so we're ready to hit the ground running in August.  Both Dr. George Shillinger and me will be back this year, and we're looking forward to seeing everyone at the HIBT!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Congratulations to the Winners!

And thanks to everyone for your support and patience while we pulled together all the final data. The tracks we got were really amazing, and well worth the time and effort it took to get them. Sincerest thanks go out to the tournament organizers and sponsors, to the angling teams, and to the captains and crews who so generously supported the Great Marlin Race. We absolutely could not have done this work without you!

In reviewing the tracks, it was incredible to see not only how far the fish traveled - but also how diverse their patterns of behavior. Having all begun their journeys from roughly the same time and place, their final destinations were separated by more than 2,000 nautical miles!

From the datasets we received, it appears that, regardless of location, the marlin spent their nights right near the surface, and their days much deeper - often 200-300 meters down, just to the boundary between the relatively warm water above and the frigid water below.

We are very excited about the upcoming HIBT, and the opportunity to deploy more tags on these magnificent fish! Because so many race tags didn't come up, we are offering those teams whose tags didn't show up free replacement tags for the 2010 Great Marlin Race. By shortening the deployment times this year, we're confident that we'll have a higher percentage of tags coming up. And by adding a depth-triggered release, we'll also learn whether some non-reporting fish might be sinking to the bottom - having fallen ill or been injured, or having run afoul of a predator or a long line.

We are looking forward to seeing everyone again this August, and will stay in touch over the coming weeks as details of the 2010 Great Marlin Race are announced.

Best wishes to all!