One stormy morning
not long ago off Hawaii's Kona coast a tourist named Joseph J. Mulhern of
Penndel, Pa. made the supreme sacrifice. Mulhern gave up the first billfish he
had ever hooked to the Higher Cause of Science. And his sacrifice was equaled
only by that of a charter boat captain named Bart Miller (SI, Jan. 12, 1970),
who had been commissioned to catch the fish—and had not managed to do it.
Between them, and with the critical assistance of a third hero, Captain Peter
Hoogs, Mulhern and Miller enabled the U.S. Government to invade the heretofore
sacred privacy of a Pacific blue marlin.
This plot to bug
one of our biggest billfishes originated with the National Science Foundation,
which has nothing against marlin but is curious about their habits. Dr. Frank
Hester, head of the Honolulu bureau of the National Marine Fisheries Service,
drew the special mission, and turned to one of his most accomplished
biologists, Heeny Yuen, a Chinese fish detective who in 1969 Charlie-Channed a
15-inch skipjack tuna. Wiring a blue marlin for sound obviously posed a larger
problem—possibly larger by 700 pounds and 10 or 12 feet.
Heeny Yuen sagely
concluded that no foreseeable marlin would be amiable enough to swallow a
three-fourths-inch by six-inch plastic transmitter tube (the docile skipjack
had gulped a smaller one). So he and his colleagues devised a curved, slotted
dart that could be attached to a pole and, hopefully, thrust beneath the
marlin's skin somewhat in the manner of a bullfight banderilla. The radio
transmitter, attached to the dart by a nylon loop, would dangle outside and
thus would not have to project its signal through about 100 pounds of marlin
What the Fisheries
Service needed now was a fish, and to get it Hester and Yuen chose the most
controversial charter skipper in the wide Pacific: Black Bart. What attracted
the NMFS was 1) that Bart Miller was back at Kona, after a year's absence, with
a slick new boat; 2) that he holds the record of having boated more marlin
(100) in one year than any skipper on earth; 3) that in 1967 he won the
Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament, boating seven marlin in five days
of fishing; and, finally, 4) that he has an obsession for marlin comparable to
Ahab's for Moby Dick—except that Miller doesn't want any one marlin. He wants
"Bart is our
man," Heeny Yuen said. "He will get us a marlin." As though to
affirm Heeny's confidence, Miller took his new Bertram 38 Christel out on a
maiden charter July 9 with a little bikinied miss named Joyce Comprini as the
angler. With some assistance from Black Bart, Joyce boated a fish almost eight
times her weight—a 734-pound blue marlin.
The linkup of
Captain Miller and the NMFS came on a sunny morning a few days later, when the
fisheries ship Charles H. Gilbert arrived in Kailua harbor. Heeny Yuen gave
Miller two of the darts attached to their respective implanting poles, and
Christel and the Gilbert swept the offshore seas all day. No luck. The next
morning, a disaster of a morning, washed with chilly gray rain willed to Kona
by Hurricane Denise, the sacrificial passion play began. Captain Hoogs, running
Pamela parallel to Christel along the 100-fathom line, suddenly got a strike—a
big, jumping marlin, 600 or 700 pounds worth.
"I think we
should put the dart in Peter's fish," Miller said. "The way the
current's running, we might not get one." There were demurrers. Surely Mary
Dean, the Christel's handsome blonde angler, would hook one of the putative
rascals before the day was out. Black Bart (the real Black Bart) flashed
angrily: "We're out here to do scientific research. That's more important
than who catches the fish!" Miller got Hoogs on the radio and Hoogs got the
consent of angler Mulhern, who was pretty busy fighting the marlin.
"I went 31
days once without a marlin," Bart Miller said to nobody in particular.
" Zane Grey once went 92!"
Ten minutes later
Miller brought Christel bow to bow with Pamela and an activated dart was handed
over to Hoogs, a rangy, smiling young man who is one of Black Bart's few
buddies among the Kona charter skippers. With Mulhern's consent, Hoogs began
hand-lining the marlin, and when the long blue back of the fish came in view he
poised himself in the stern like one of the old harpooners of the Kona and
Lahaina whaling days. As the fish came by—its dorsal fin and tail slicing the
surface—Hoogs struck. The dart went in alongside the dorsal: perfect. A moment
later the leader was cut and Secret Operative No. 001, blue marlin division,
was on his way.
Nearby, on the
lurking Gilbert, Heeny Yuen, armed with various sonar devices—a receiver, an
oscilloscope, a transducer and a frequency counter among them—reported the big
blue informer coming in loud and clear.