Fish of a Lifetime!

July 29, 2012

On July 22nd, Guy’s 22-year old daughter Jessica caught a 600+ lb. swordfish while on a Guy Harvey Expedition off Isla Mujeres, Mexico. After returning home to Grand Cayman, Guy filed this first-hand account of the catch:

I was on my third shoot this year with the Guy Harvey Expeditions team to film a documentary about the marine life off the Yucatan Peninsula. The expedition team, which included award-winning producer George Schellenger and Capt. Anthony Mendillo of “Keen M Sportfishing”, was based out of Isla Mujeres in the province of Quintana Roo, Mexico – a prime location to reach the big animals that congregate off the coast of this tiny island where the Gulf of Mexico meets the western Caribbean Sea.

The GHE team had been to Isla Mujeres twice this year – first in January to fish and dive with sailfish aggregations, and then again in March to study the mako population in the region. On each trip, the team utilized Pop up Archival Tags (PATs) to track the fish – 12 sails, 3 makos – in an effort to document their migratory paths after they leave the Yucatan.

For our third trip, we returned in July for whale shark season along with the thousands of snorkelers who flock to the region to swim with the docile monster fish who come to the area to gorge on fish eggs and plankton just a few miles offshore. The whale sharks gather in the area for about 60 days each year – sometimes numbering just a dozen or so, though at times as many as five hundred spread over a square mile of ocean. The socio economic benefit of these marine interactions is enormous. Close encounters with otherwise rarely seen oceanic nomads brings a lot of money to the region – it is a highly sustainable activity which is well regulated by Mexican authorities.

My daughter Jessica, who has just graduated from Edinburgh University in Scotland with honors in Zoology, joined the team for this expedition and was thrilled to be spending so much time in the water photographing whale sharks. There were so many that often two or three of the thirty foot long animals would fill the frame.

After filming the whale sharks for three consecutive days, we decided to do some swordfishing on the last day of the expedition. Capt. Anthony took us out on the 48 foot Cabo “Chachalaca” so we could hit a few spots offshore where he deep drops Florida-style for swordfish in 1,400 to 1,800 feet of water. We were not fishing IGFA rules – we were using 100# braided nylon line with a 200# topshot 100 feet long to the leader. We weren’t looking for a record – we just wanted to catch one on rod and reel!

Dropping the squid bait, with light and heavy weight a hundred feet from the hook, Capt. Anthony kept the boat moving into the current at 3 knots while 1,500 feet below the bait was actually moving north at 1 knot in a 4 knot current.

Just after 10:00AM on the first drift, Jessica got a bite and the rod tip began bouncing as the line starting flying off the reel.  Capt. Anthony spun the boat around and began to chase after the fish. He already had a big smile on his face – he knew from 15 years of swordfishing that this was a good sized fish! Jessica worked hard on the fish and after an hour it came to the surface with a single massive jump, leaving all on board speechless. Mate Ruben yelled, “500 plus!!!”, and Capt. Anthony nodded in agreement.

We got close to the big swordfish, which was swimming just beneath the surface. Mate Gallo grabbed at the leader for a technical catch. However, the swordfish was still fresh and it spurted away with great sweeps of its tail and line dumped off the reel. Jessica shrieked in exasperation as she watched all of her hard work melt off the spool in a few seconds as the great fish sounded. Capt. Anthony yelled words of encouragement from the bridge, “Jessica, take your time, this is the fish of a lifetime.”

Jessica kept heavy pressure on the fish and cruised past the 2 hour mark when again the leader came up on the rod as the great fish was swimming just below the surface. As before, Gallo had the leader to hand but the swordfish turned on the after burner and paddled off into the deep as if the fight was just beginning. Tired and sore at this point, Jessica redoubled her efforts while Capt. Anthony instructed her to put on more drag while keeping pressure on the reel with her gloved left hand. After nearly an hour, the added pressure worked and Jessica finally got the swordfish to the surface.

The crew went to work quickly, securing the fish as we marveled at its size. It took six men to slide the 14 foot long fish into the boat, and the bill protruded through the cabin doorway into the salon when they closed the transom door. Jessica gulped some water and Capt. Anthony popped the cork on a bottle of champagne as the celebration started.

Back at the dock, the giant fish was swum across to the public beach by willing hands where an expectant crowd helped to pull the fish up on the wooden gantry. Hundreds of locals gathered to take photos with the fish. After 30 minutes the fish was taken down, measurements were made and then Capt. Anthony and crew cleaned the fish. The crew weighed the meat, backbone, head and fins, which totaled 590 pounds. With the loss of blood, body fluids and scraps, it was estimated that the 14 foot swordfish was easily in the 620 pound range! The meat was shared amongst crew, family and friends – not a scrap was wasted (local fisherman even carried off the fins, head and backbone to make fish soup).

Once back home, I contacted the IGFA to ask about other large swordfish catches by lady anglers. The last catch of a swordfish over 600 pounds was a 772 pound fish caught by Mrs. Lou Marron in 1954 in Chile. So, apart from being an Isla Mujeres record, Jessica’s catch is probably a record swordfish for the Caribbean coast of Mexico on rod and reel.

Congratulations to Capt. Anthony Mendillo, his crew and to Jessica for catching the fish of a lifetime!

Guy Harvey PhD.


Guy Harvey Research Institute, Georgia Aquarium Complete Annual Census at Stingray City

July 24, 2012

Jessica Harvey rounds up a stingray during the annual census study.

New census study shows sharp decline in number of rays at Stingray City

In mid-July, personnel from the Guy Harvey Research Institute once again collaborated with the Cayman Islands Department of Environment to conduct the annual census of the stingray population in Grand Cayman. This year, we were joined by three researchers from the Georgia Aquarium, who were on hand to assist with analyzing the overall health of the stingrays.

The situation at the Sandbar in North Sound is unique, with a large number of wild rays that are not fenced or contained but inhabit the shallow clear water with accessibility every day of the year. The socio-economic value of the rays to the Cayman economy is enormous. On average, each animal can generate up to $500,000 in revenue per year, or $10,000,000 over the course of a 20 year life span!

From a historical perspective, it is worth setting out the track record of research work conducted on the population of stingrays in Grand Cayman. Research was started by the GHRI in 2002 when all the stingrays that frequent the two main sites were caught by hand and tagged with a PIT (passive integrated transponder) at the base of their tail. During the initial count, 164 rays were tagged, weighed and measured at the Sandbar over two years. Since then, tag retention has remained near 100%, so many animals tagged ten years ago still have their PIT today. This has been a very simple and valuable tool to track the life history and growth rates of these animals.

For the period 2002 – 2003, one hundred rays were sampled each month over a three day period at the Sandbar.  The same situation was experienced in a subsequent census conducted by the GHRI in 2005 and 2008. As expected, over time there was recruitment of new (untagged) rays to the Sandbar and loss of individuals due to migration, natural mortality and possibly some predation. The sex ratio of 90% females to 10% males has remained fairly constant over this time.

The research team holds a large female ray as they prepare to draw a blood sample.

From 2010 tour operators and casual observations indicated a sudden decline in the number of rays at the Sandbar. In response to the reports, the GHRI conducted a census in January 2012 and sampled only 61rays in the standard three day research period at the Sandbar, which represents a significant (38%) decrease in number of rays compared to the last census in 2008. Now that we had some hard facts to support the eye witness accounts, the next logical step was to find out what was causing the decline in population.

The numbers of rays have been constant since research was started in 2002 with recruitment and mortality being well balanced. GHRI personnel ruled out predation by sharks in the January census due to lack of evidence of shark bites (near misses) and the corresponding demise of sharks in the last ten years. However, fishing mortality (intentionally or by accident) is a consideration.  I say this because here is no national protection for stingrays – outside of the Wildlife Interactive Zones (WIZ) this species has no protection and can be removed and consumed by residents.

Another possibility for us to consider is the overall health of the rays, which is why GHRI enlisted the support of the Georgia Aquarium veterinary staff for this year’s census. The addition of the GA vets also allowed the research work to become much more technical. Dr. Tonya Clauss (Director Animal Health, Georgia Aquarium), Dr. Lisa Hoopes  (Nutritionist, Georgia Aquarium) and  Nicole Boucha (Senior Veterinary Technician, Georgia Aquarium) arrived in Grand Cayman loaded with equipment to take blood and store these precious samples in liquid nitrogen until analysis could be achieved back in Georgia.

Over three days the team sampled 57 rays (only 5 males) at the Sandbar (down from 61 in January) with assistance from DoE staff and several volunteers. The team also spent a day at the original Stingray City and sampled 11 rays (2 males) and caught 3 rays (1 male) at Rum Point, bringing the total to 71 rays sampled.  The low number of males in this year’s sample is definitely cause for concern.

Team members – Front row: Guy Harvey, Nicole Boucha, Tonya Clauss. Back row: Lisa Hoopes, Dr. Brad Wetherbee, Alex Harvey, Jessica Harvey.

Each ray was caught by hand and transferred to the pool in the work boat where they were measured and tagged, then blood was taken from the underside of the base of the tail. Some of this blood was immediately centrifuged to make counts of white blood cells. The rest was frozen in liquid nitrogen for shipment back to the lab in the Georgia Aquarium.

From the blood samples the vets will be able to determine if the (monotonous) diet of squid fed to the rays by the majority of tour operators is affecting the animal’s health.  The processing of samples and data will take several weeks. At the end of this process we will have more knowledge about these valuable creatures and how better to manage their supplementary diet and well being.

Overall, a long term plan of monitoring the numbers of rays and their health is required. Everyone in the Cayman Islands benefits from the presence of this unique marine interactive site. Every advertising campaign or tourism related article featuring the Cayman Islands has these iconic animals up front and prominently displayed. It is time the government of the Cayman Islands returned the favor by supporting ongoing research of the stingrays’ population status and well-being by releasing funds in the Environmental Protection Fund collected for this purpose.

More updates to come.

Fish responsibly, dive safely.

Guy Harvey PhD.


Jessica Harvey Catches Mammoth 600-Plus Pound Swordfish Off Isla Mujeres, Mexico

July 23, 2012

Guy congratulates his daughter Jessica on her 600+ lb. swordfish catch, a new record for Isla Mujeres and the largest swordfish caught anywhere on conventional rod & reel by a female angler in 30 years.

ISLA MUJERES, MEXICO—July 22, 2012—Jessica Harvey, the 22-year-old daughter of marine icon Guy Harvey, showed that saltwater fishing skills is a family trait when she fought and landed a massive 600-plus pound swordfish—the largest caught on rod & reel by a female angler in the last 30 years and one of the largest ever on record.

The Guy Harvey Expeditions team was in Isla Mujeres to film the renowned whale shark aggregations as part of a new documentary.

Ms. Harvey, an IGFA Jr. World Record holder, took a break from filming to do a little fishing, according to her father.

Under the guidance of Capt. Anthony Mendillo and the crew of Keen M Sportfishing, Ms. Harvey using a conventional rod and reel hooked into the swordfish in 1,550 feet of water some 15 miles offshore. She battled the fish for nearly three hours.

The entire adventure was captured on film by award-winning filmmaker George Schellenger and Greg Jacoski of the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation.


Massive Mako Surprises Diver and Blue Marlin During Guy Harvey Expedition in the Bahamas

July 18, 2012

You never know who will show up on a Guy Harvey Expedition! In this video, a massive 10 ft. long, 600 lb. mako breaks the underwater silence when it rockets past the camera as it stalks a blue marlin!


Whale Shark Sucks Fish Out of Hole in Fishing Net!

July 17, 2012

Incredible video from Conservation International showing a whale shark sucking baitfish from fishermen’s nets in Cendrawasih Bay, Indonesia:

CI’s summary of the video: ” On a recent expedition to Indonesia’s Cendrawasih Bay, Conservation International’s Mark Erdmann learned how whale sharks often congregate around bagan (lift net) fishing platforms to eat the small silverside baitfish that the fishers are targeting. The sharks have also learned how to “suck” the fish out of holes in the nets!

This can be dangerous — but the local fishers like the sharks, considering them good luck, and are working to modify the net designs to prevent sharks from entering.”


GHRI, Georgia Aquarium Partner for Stingray Census Study in Grand Cayman

July 16, 2012

Alex Harvey, Louisa Gibson and Dr. Brad Wetherbee secure a large ray in a pool in the cockpit of Guy’s Scout boat while Georgia Aquarium’s Tonya Clauss prepares to take blood from the ray’s tail.

The Guy Harvey Research Institute just finished conducting the annual census of the stingray population at Stingray City in Grand Cayman. The GHRI team, led by Guy Harvey and GHRI Director Dr. Mahmood Shivji, Dr. Brad Wetherbee of the University of Rhode IslandEdinburgh University student Louisa Gibson and Guy’s adult children, Jessica and Alex Harvey. Assisting the GHRI this year were three special guests from the Georgia Aquarium – veterinarians Tonya Clauss, Lisa Hoopes and Nicole Boucha, who were on hand to analyze blood samples to better assess the overall health of the rays. Thanks to all who participated – updates from the census will be available soon!


The Raw Power of the Oceanic White Tip Shark

July 9, 2012

While on a joint Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation/Guy Harvey Research Institute Expedition off Cat Island in the Bahamas, Guy Harvey and friends filmed the aftermath of an encounter between a hooked marlin and hungry oceanic white tip sharks. Watch this clip to see why sharks are at the top of the aquatic food chain, then use the discount code “Emma” to save $5 off the purchase of the award-winning film, “This is Your Ocean: Sharks”.


This Film Will Change the Way You Look at Sharks – Forever!

July 7, 2012

“This is Your Ocean – Sharks”, the award-winning and internationally-acclaimed shark documentary starring Guy Harvey, Wyland and Jim Abernethy, is now available for purchase for the first time. Order the film here, and enter coupon code “Emma” for $5 off the purchase price.


Happy 4th of July!

July 4, 2012


China Bans Shark Fin Soup from Official Banquets

July 3, 2012

Big news from Ground Zero in the battle over shark fin soup and the international shark fin trade! Chinese media is reporting that the Chinese government has banned shark fin soup from being served at all official government banquets. The ban will not be immediate, but the move is a huge victory nonetheless for the anti-shark finning movement. Here’s the full story from CNN.com:

Hong Kong (CNN) — China is planning to ban shark fin soup from being served at official banquets, in a sign the country may be losing its taste for the expensive delicacy.

According to Chinese media, the Government Office Administration of the State Council said the ban could take up to three years to implement and would help cut the cost of sometimes lavish banquets held for state functions.

The move followed a proposal made during the National People’s Congress in March this year.

Bertha Lo of the campaign group Hong Kong Shark Foundation said the move could potentially reduce the amount of sharks killed given that China is the biggest consumer of shark fin products.

“I think it will have an impact,” she said. “The government in China is powerful and if it takes the lead on this issue, I don’t see why others shouldn’t follow suit.”

Between 26 million and 73 million sharks are estimated to be killed each year, according to a 2006 academic study* quoted on the website of Lo’s group. Their carcasses are usually discarded and campaigners say the practice is wasteful and cruel.

The World Wildlife Fund says that 181 species of shark are under threat, up from 15 in 1996.

Shark’s fin soup is widely served in restaurants in Chinese communities worldwide and is a dish often served at weddings to mark the importance of the occasion and impress the couple’s extended families and friends.

But the custom has become less popular among a younger generation of diners, who are more environmentally conscious, says Lo.

Last year, the operator of the high-end Peninsula hotel chain said it would remove shark fin products from its menus and Shangri-la Hotels made a similar move this year.

In Beijing, the five-star Swissotel has also stopped serving shark fin, according to the China Daily.

Outside Asia, legislation banning shark fin has been introduced in five U.S. states including California, which this month also banned the French duck liver delicacy foie gras on the grounds of cruelty.

In China, the campaign against shark fin products has gained steam following pledges by celebrities, such as former NBA star Yao Ming, not to eat the delicacy.

* The academic study cited in this article was conducted by the Guy Harvey Research Institute and Dr. Shelley Clarke.