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Filming Atlantic Bluefin Tuna off Guernsey

So this is a Tuna Tale. You’ll probably have heard the news in recent months that vast shawls of Atlantic Bluefin Tuna are returning to the Channel Islands and UK waters. Subsequently for good or bad hunters from all over the world are gathering to decimate these populations once again.

In the latest news we’ve heard of huge fleets of Japanese fisherman patrolling the waters of the coast of Ireland using mile long lines that will entangle all manner of sea life.

This is our experience filming these magnificent creatures off Guernsey’s coast for ‘The Blue’ you can also listen to it as a podcast - our first ever Wild Islands Podcast for that matter!

Okay, so some background. Every time the team goes out and films wildlife, they do it in consultation with local scientists and research groups. So, everything we're talking about has been done by trained professionals, having undertaken risk assessments.

If you're reading this you’ll probably have guessed the nature of what we got up to, filming thousands of Atlantic Bluefin tuna. Not an easy task, needing plenty of planning and consideration; when we're at sea, on a boat, there's a chain of command, the skipper’s word is final. Everyone who is filming is trained. People also have diving qualifications. So, please do not try this at home.

That being said it was a thrilling experience so forgive the un-professional nature of our ramblings! I mean, how could we not be excited? We set out to get in the water with some of the most impressive sea-creatures in the world.

First things first before heading off... suncream...

Over to Matthew Stockreiter, he's going to tell us how he was feeling before we went out on this boat trip, it was quite last minute, you're sort of like ‘the weather's good the tuna are here let's go!’

“ I'm always slightly pessimistic before we go out to try and find any wildlife, because obviously it's not certain that we're actually going to find what we are looking for.

With this particular trip we'd obviously deliberately gone out to actually find the tuna, for hours we didn;t see anything. We were on the boat for about 10 hours. I think Pierre spotted the first tuna about 3 hours in but it wasn't until the 7th or 8th hour, something like that, before we actually had decent signs. You're spending hours upon hours just looking at the water, it’s actually quite mentally draining to try and sustain that focus, that in itself is a challenge.”

Greg Whitehead's Boat used for filming Atlantic Bluefin tuna for the blue | Wild Islands

Liz Sweet has been on pelagic trips before hoping to spot Tuna so she knew a little more of what we should expect.

“It's very difficult to spot, particularly when the waves are starting to break and you get that shadow. So you think, Oh, is that a tuna or a dolphin? And it could literally just be a wave. So I guess the thing is, a large part of the day is spent actually looking for them, but thankfully the skipper is very experienced and sort of knows what he's doing.

It’s quite amazing seeing him get on the roof of the boat every now and again with binoculars looking from side to side and then sort of determinedly saying we're heading that way. That just goes to show how important it is to go out with local experts.”

Grey stood proudly on-top of his boat looking out for the tuna

From our perspective quite a large part of the day was essentially waiting, our eyes fixated on the water hoping to see something none of us had actually seen before. On the boat we had a great group of people helping to look out and ready to help once filming had commenced.

At the 11th hour we found what we were looking for, a boiling mass of tuna circling a bait-ball. We had limited time once we had found what we were looking for to get in and get the shots.

Crucially we were at a respectful distance. There's a crazy amount of internal excitement and you're just questioning what we are about to see. Once we actually got to the tuna, we didn't really know exactly what we were going to do, you know, what our process would be filming them.

Pierre Ehmann getting in the water to film bluefin tuna | Wild Islands

We’d got in the water a few times, but tuna are incredibly fast and manoeuvre away quickly. We reached this point where we were confident in what we were doing. It all happened very quickly in the last two hours. Matthew and I were in the water several times before we were able to film the tuna.

By the time we'd come across this event, this ball ball, or as the skipper calls it, the donut of doom. We were already fully prepared to get in and get the shots. From the surface it does look quite violent. Underwater the tuna are nimble and utterly aware.

It was incredibly exciting. Matthew was straight in launching himself towards the bait-ball. Having gone in a few times without success, on one of our last attempts to film the tuna Matt switched from his GH5 to GOPRO so he could be more nimble in the water. He didn't disappoint.

“Some of them were larger than us, it was a little bit nerve wracking, once we were in the water and you could actually see the tuna, I guess your focus is then on getting the shot. You're not so worried about them at that point. It's like, wow, look at that. I could definitely tell that they would see me and then slightly start to move away. And that kind of put me at ease, I guess.”

A perfect circle of Atlantic Bluefin tuna | Wild Islands

Liz was watching from the surface.

“From the surface, I feel like that's probably actually more terrifying. So, from the surface, we had about five or six hundred tuna, and they had corralled this bait bowl of small fish, and they were feeding on it. So, you've got an almost perfect circle of boiling white water as the tuna go in to get the fish.

And so the skipper's description of it being, a doughnut of doom is pretty accurate for those bait fish. It looks incredibly violent on the surface and we could see Matt, like an olympic swimmer hurtling towards this bait ball. There’s a video clip of the entire boat shouting ‘STOP’ at Matt.

I have to say the skipper really wanted to get in the water with you as well. But of course, he's in charge of the boat.”

These tuna are just incredibly fast, we have a matter of minutes to get the shots. It's a massively intense event and a few minutes leaving Matthew and I tired, flailing out across the deck on our return to shore. Unaware how good any of the footage would be. From this post you can assume it was ok!

Thanks for reading this story of our experience filming Bluefin Tuna, you can listen to the podcast episode here or watch The Blue here with the final segment about Tuna in the Channel Islands.


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