Nature: Superfish

Sun, 07/19/2009 - 8:00pm
Pictured:Striped Marlin
Credit: Rick Rosenthal
Across three oceans and more than two years, marine biologist and filmmaker Rick Rosenthal set out to capture on film the biggest, fastest, most dangerous gamefish in the sea — the ancient and amazing creatures known as billfish. The group includes the graceful sailfish, the menacing swordfish and queen of them all, the marlin. Rosenthal’s pursuit of these coveted sea creatures in the name of conservation unfolds in Nature: Superfish, airing Sunday, July 19 at 8 p.m. on WXXI-TV (DT21.1/ cable 1011/ cable 11). Academy Award-winning actor F. Murray Abraham narrates.

Billfish are almost impossible to find and film in open waters, making it very difficult for researchers to study them. Adding to the challenge is the over-fishing of billfish and their prey, causing a decline in their populations.

Rosenthal begins his journey off Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, where striped marlin and sea lions compete for huge schools of fish riding the California current, then travels to Mexico’s Contoy Island to determine if rumors of large numbers of migrating sailfish there is true. The payoff is huge. Thousands of sailfish swirl through the water, feeding on schools of sardines. But as elated as he is with the discovery, Rosenthal fears that fishermen will once again exploit the event, as they have elsewhere.

One tragic example takes place along the coast of Peru, near the village of Cabo Blanco. It was here that sports fishermen and celebrities alike gathered in the 1950s for a chance to land one of the great granders. Sixty years later, the sport fishing has dried up, but commercial fisheries have taken over. In seaports up and down the coast, populations of marlin, tuna and swordfish have been decimated. “It’s a relentless harvest driven by poverty and greed,” says Rosenthal. “We’ve lost more than 90 percent of billfish in just the last 50 years, and the marlin population won’t recover if we keep taking the big, egg-laying females.”

The future of the billfish population may lie in places like Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. Here, Rosenthal shoots footage of tiny, infant sailfish, a rare and wondrous find. The underwater nursery offers hope for their future.

Rosenthal’s quest to film a grander in the wild leads him to the Great Barrier Reef off Australia’s Cape York Peninsula. With the aid of a local expert gamefish captain, the moment finally arrives — he’s able to swim with and film one of the superfish. He expects no more than a few seconds in the water with her, but for a remarkable 20 minutes, they share a world as fellow creatures.