Sailfish Crittercam Success!

Sam Friedrichs is leading an ongoing project using Crittercam to help unlock the secret lives of marlin before it’s too late.

The day dawned clear and bright as we hit the water shortly after 7:00 am aboard the Silver-Rod-O. As we rounded the point to exit Piñas Bay we were greeted with a brisk 10-knot wind that was whipping up small whitecaps. We made a quick stop on Zane Grey reef to procure a couple of live skipjack tuna for live bait and proceeded offshore. Once we were 10 miles offshore we set our spread of teasers and commenced our search for a worthy billfish for a Crittercam system. At this point we had been fishing for just under a week and we had released a number of billfish but none would calm down enough to attach a Crittercam.

A Pacific sailfish goes skyward shortly before it received a Crittercam system. Photo by Sam Friedrichs.

At a round 12:30 pm, Captain Yoan started screaming “Right Teaser, right teaser, Vela, Vela!!!” This distraught set of words signaled that a Pacific sailfish had come up behind one of the teaser baits (learn more about how fishing with teasers works). As Yoan made sure to keep the teaser away from the fish, Gary Carter pitched a dead ballyhoo (a long, silver baitfish) on a circle hook into the wake. As the bait passed the teaser, the excited billfish rapidly switched on to the new offering and in a whirlwind of white water and dorsal had consumed the bait. After three seconds, Gary gently put the reel into gear and a 70-pound bronze missile erupted from the waves behind the boat. While the ultimate goal of this trip is large blue and black marlin, I do not discriminate when it comes to billfish species and this fish would mark the third deployment on a Pacific sailfish if everything went well.

A Pacific sailfish swims off into the Pacific Ocean carrying a Crittercam system. Photo by Sam Friedrichs.

In less than five minutes, Gary brought the sailfish to the back of the boat. As mate Steve Hall removed the hook, I leaned over the side and securely attached the Crittercam system just below this fish’s famous dorsal fin. Within seconds of deployment the fish was released and I bailed off the back of the boat to make sure she was doing alright. Upon release she settled down at about 10 feet. She had spread her pectoral fins and was displaying all of her colors as she slowly swam off into the blue. Confident she was released in excellent condition, I swam back to the Silver-Rod-O. Now we had an hour-and-a-half wait before the camera was set to break away from the sailfish.

A sailfish's view of the world via Crittercam. At this particular moment the fish had illuminated its stripes (lower right) reacting to something in the water off camera. Unfortunately, we never saw what caused this response (predator or prey?). Still from Crittercam video courtesy Sam Friedrichs.

Once the fish swam away from the boat, she recorded an hour and a half of free-swimming footage as she went about her life. This was the longest sailfish deployment to date and even in this short amount of time we were able to witness some amazing things that we have never seen from a billfish Crittercam.

For starters this fish showed a remarkable recovery after release. Over the course of the deployment she traversed the water column ranging from 2 feet below the waves to a depth of 125 feet. However, the defining characteristic of this recovery would be that she was reacting to her environment using body language. On a number of occasions we watched her tighten the muscles just behind her head which in turn raises the sail. In addition, she flashed full color a number of times throughout the video. This is a unique feature that all billfish possess in that they have a series of stripes that they can light up like a neon sign as a means of expressing their mood. While we weren’t able to see exactly what she was reacting to it is exciting to see all of this behavior from her point of view.  As the timer hit 2:00 pm the camera released and our parting shot was a big tail slowly carrying this healthy fish into the blue.

The crew of the Silver-Rod-O poses for a photo after the successful recovery of the sailfish Crittercam. From right to left: Gary Carter (owner), Yoan Alcala (captain), Geiner Cortes(mate) and Steve Hall (mate/wireman). Photo by Sam Friedrichs.


Learn More

Read All the Billfish 2013 Posts

National Geographic Crittercam