"Do you know about the bluefin tuna, Mr. Packard?" I said, "Please call me George" and had this crazy thought flash through my head about chickens swimming around in the sea, and bumblebees, and I knew that I didn't know a bluefin tuna from a pound of lox and that this was no place to fake it.
"No," I said. "I wouldn't know a bluefin from Charlie the...."
"As a matter of fact," he said, "they don't have blue fins at all. They have almost black fins. Linnaeus named it Thunnus thynnus, and it is the most abundant of teleostean fish, commonly reaching weights of over 500 pounds."
What weighs 500 pounds? As a striper fisherman I generally thought in terms one-tenth as large. Does a refrigerator weigh 500 pounds? I guess most pianos must, and an elephant, certainly. For a second I wondered how I would feel if an elephant breached next to the boat. But what really got me was the word "commonly." If bluefin tuna were like that most of the time, how big were the ones that weren't so common?
"It's a very peculiar fish," he said. "They're found all around the world in temperate and subtropical waters. Some move to the tropics in the winter and some are found above the Arctic Circle in the summer. Three of them tagged off Bimini, 50 miles from Miami, were caught less than three months later off Bergen, Norway. They swam 4,200 nautical miles in less than three months. That's more than 46 miles a day. Scientists have just learned where they spawn. The bluefins require vast amounts of food. In the summer they increase their body weight by 7.5% a month."
I tried to do 7.5% of 500 pounds times June, July and August in my head but I couldn't, so I said, "What do they eat?"
"The fish of the herring family, mostly," he said. "The giant bluefin is very voracious, with only one natural enemy, the killer whale. If you see the whales, you always know there are bluefin tuna."
"And if there aren't any killer whales around? How do you know where the tuna fish are then? Do you just go out and start in the middle of the ocean?"
"We have somebody who helps us with that," he said, and got up from the table. "Please excuse me. We have to start." He went out through the main cabin onto the stern and climbed the ladder to the flying bridge.
Paul and I followed him out to the stern, and then, in the same matter-of-fact manner, Paul disappeared forward. The sun was just up and clear of the trees and houses and sat by itself in the blue sky. It was going to be some hot day in Boston, I thought, and took a big breath of cool air that in the early mornings on Cape Cod smells like a perfect gin and tonic.