Tagging a Fish With a Sword for a Face

Not everyone would jump at the chance to wrestle a one-ton fish with a sword for a face, but marine biologist and National Geographic grantee, Sam Friedrichs, welcomes the opportunity.

Friedrichs works with National Geographic’s Crittercam program to attach cameras to billfish, a group of oceanic predators that includes marlins, sailfish, spearfish, and swordfish. Billfish have been known to battle sharks, so handling these pointy-faced packs of muscle is not for the faint of heart. “They’re huge, they’re powerful. Literally you do not even stand a chance in the water with one of these fish,” says Friedrichs.

The team relies on recreational anglers to catch the fish and then, rather than reel the fish in quickly, slowly battle it on the line for up to two hours. “We want the fish to get tired because we need to grab it by the bill to put the camera on [its] side,” explains Friedrichs.

After deployment, Friedrichs helps the fish recover from its battle on the line. “I get in the water just to make sure that that fish is doing all right. I get it swimming at the right orientation and get some water going over its gills so it can get going on its own,” he says.

Billfish can swim up to 60 miles per hour and travel thousands of miles in search of food, so the cameras keep up in a way that humans can’t. In 2013, a tag placed on a sailfish in Puerto Rico popped off five months and 5,000 nautical miles later in Angola, West Africa.

Friedrichs explains, “We want to see those behaviors that no one ever sees. Feeding behavior, mating behavior, socializing behavior.” Such data informs researchers of billfish “hot spots,” and helps scientists craft a viable conservation plan for the creatures, whose population has dwindled due to —> Read More