Swimming With Giant Tuna

October 10th, 2012 | 4 Comments
Bluefin Tuna, Fish, Fishing & Fishermen

First posted on Huffington Post on October 1, 2012.

Enormous and agile

Greetings from my hardship post. I am at North Lake harbor on Prince Edward Island.  I’m here to witness giant bluefin tuna.

Giant? Essentially all the fish weigh between 500 and 1,000 pounds. So, yeah, giant.

Fishermen like Ross Keus want to develop no-kill bluefin tourism, including catch-and-release charters (which are already operating) and maybe even letting tourists dive with the giants. Diving with giant tuna, at the invitation of the Film Board of Canada, is why I’m here. What an idea!

Tuna on the sonar

Throwing herring into the sea in hopes of attracting the tuna, we watched the sonar as, indeed, the fish, represented by red shapes, began gathering beneath our hull and started rising higher. Suddenly, right alongside, startlingly huge fish weighing hundreds of pounds were whizzing past in blurs, grabbing tossed herring at high competitive speeds and crashing through the surface with exploding bursts of white foam.

At that point, I did the only sensible thing; bit down on my snorkel and got into the water.

There—incredibly—I fed them herring from my fingertips as they coursed by. The great creatures are swift, agile, and in perfect control of their movements.

Other boats were out, too, but they weren’t there to swim. Around us, some boats hooked, fought, and released the fish for sport. Some caught and killed the fish for export. All fishing is strictly regulated. Each boat here is allowed one kill per season. Sport charters cannot exceed one released fish per trip. But compared to swimming with the fish, it pained me to see them hooked, even if the intention was release.

Half a ton of laminated muscle

In the past I have hooked giant tuna and, yes enjoyed, feeling the extraordinary power of a huge animal fighting for its life. But for me the thrill of that has gone. These great fish often migrate from the shores of one continent clear across to the next. During those great migrations, across most of the ocean, they are relentlessly pursued. In Japan, buyers pay thousands of dollars—sometimes hundreds of thousands—for a single fish (http://tinyurl.com/6u2mqdh). They are deeply depleted, and for years the fish had vanished from here, too. Now they have returned here in substantial numbers, and we are all trying to learn some lessons. It’s not all about sushi in Japan. The fishing supports local communities here and in Cape Breton. Catch and release is perhaps a better way for fishermen to earn money from the fish, though even released fish experience stress and occasional mortality. Better yet, our captain, Ross Keus, would probably be delighted to arrange a swim-with-giant-tuna charter.

As I swam in the water and the giants came ‘round again and again, they showed absolutely no fear of me. Nor were they in any way threatening. And for once I, the fisherman, gave them no reason to fear, nor did I present any threat. It was like a dream, come true.

[To see more photos and a very brief video, visit Carl Safina’s Facebook page]

Ross Keus watches the sonar



Two after the same herring


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4 Responses to “Swimming With Giant Tuna”

  1. Jeannine says:

    Hello Mr. Safina.
    I am presently reading your wonderful book “The view from Lazy Point “!!!!! Love it…love your writing…sad, honest, hopeful…this and more is how I feel while reading. Am anxious to share this book with my hubby and one of my friends who loves life and all on our earth. But I will be sad when the read will be over…glad I found your blog..and I will find another of your books soon. These amazing tuna are gorgeous…how thrilling it

    must be to swim with them as you learn more about them. To quote a quote from your book:”Only connect!….live in fragments no longer. Only connect.”

  2. Ryan Collins says:

    Incredible account Carl and wonderful photos.

    I fish off Cape Cod and while we do have giant tuna roaming just off the beach, the concentrations are nothing like what you describe in PEI.

    Do they credit one thing in particular that attracts the tuna to PEI in such great concentrations?

    All the best,


    • carls_crew says:

      They say it’s herring. There are herring gillnets in the water that they say bring the tuna around. They had a bit of a war to keep out herring seiners. They say the tuna are there if the herring are thick.

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