University of Southern Mississippi's 'safari' targets baby bluefin tuna

OCEAN SPRINGS -- University of Southern Mississippi marine biology detectives are on safari, looking for offspring of the largest living species of tuna in the world.

Dick Waller, Bruce Comyns and Jim Franks, USM marine biologists at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory here, are more than 100 miles off the coast of Mississippi today (through Saturday) searching for newly hatched larvae of the giant bluefin tuna.

Bluefin tuna can reach up to 10 feet in length and can weigh up to 1,400 pounds. Prized by both the commercial and recreational fishing communities, these ocean giants can spell big money. A 444-pound bluefin caught in January 2001 brought in $391 per pound at a Tokyo fish market auction.

At several days of age, however, giant bluefin larvae are not giant; they are about the size of a pencil eraser. Not much is known about exactly where bluefin adults spawn, conditions favorable for spawning and what contributes to the survival of the young. What is known is that these giants generally spawn in the northern Gulf of Mexico and the Mediterranean Sea.

"In the Gulf of Mexico, there is apparently a spring run for spawning purposes," Waller said. "While there is no regular monitoring technique, looking at the numbers of larvae gives us an indication of the number of adults coming into the area to spawn."

Waller is Mississippi's coordinator for the Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program, a partnership among federal and state agencies and universities. The biologist has spent years sampling resources in the Gulf from Key West, Fla., to Brownsville, Texas.

"To cover a large geographical area with consistency from year to year, we sample on a set grid pattern, taking samples at those same spots every year," Waller said. "What we are doing now is supplementing the (grid pattern of the) spring plankton survey by going to the ocean fronts and eddies that others identify for us."

Contact: Linda Skupien
University of Southern Mississippi

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