The world's largest finfish, the bluefin tuna can grow to 10 feet and weigh 1500 pounds. It is a favorite with the Japanese, and a single fish has brought $42,000 (a piece of sushi in a Tokyo restaurant can cost $75). Whynott (Following the Bloom) takes us through two seasons of bluefin harpoon fishing off the New England coast from Cape Cod to Maine. He introduces Bob Sampson of Barnstable, whose family has lived and fished on Cape Cod since colonial times. Many bluefin fishermen, Sampson included, use spotter planes; Whynott goes out with one pilot. He observes the catch by Sampson's and other boats and details the route from dockside to the Tokyo fish market. In 1992, environmental groups attempted to limit the catch; fishermen argued that population stocks were plentiful. Whynott has written a fascinating story of the bluefin and the Cape Cod fishermen.
"He stuns us with the bluefin's delicate mortality rate. He dazzles us with accounts of their ability to swim together: 'Schools change formation from one minute to the next. A straight line becomes a parabola, which becomes a cartwheel. Off Cape Cod one summer a school of about 200 bluefin was milling. Then a fish broke off the edge, followed by another, and an echelon formed, a great diagonal line pulling away from the mill like thread coming off a spool."
--The New York Times
"A new book on the market, Giant Bluefin, is as Cape Cod as kale soup, marinated fish and a love-hate relationship with tourists. And we're saying there's no reason not to read this book. This is the story of tuna fishing, and it's the most genuine fishing book to come down the wharf in quite a while. It stars the most amazing fish to swim in Cape Cod waters."
--The Cape Cod Times
"As in any story, the best moments in Giant Bluefin are a briny blend of romance and mystery."
--The New York Times Book Review
"Whynott's superb report on the bluefin tuna harpoon fishery takes readers to the old whaling grounds off Cape Cod and shows that the adventure and controversy associated with that extinct American industry survive today, on boats like Scratcher, Back Off, and Tenacious."
--The New Yorker
"Whynott has written a fascinating story of the bluefin and the Cape Cod fishermen."
"I went to Fulton Fish Market the other morning because I had just finished reading the proofs of a remarkable book about the New England tuna fishery, Giant Bluefin, by Douglas Whynott. I hope it does extraordinarily well, as William Warner's Beautiful Swimmers, about blue crabs and the Chesapeake Bay, did 20 years ago. It is as good a book, and will inevitably draw comparisons to both Warner and to John McPhee's best work."
--Sam Sifton, New York Press
From Chapter 6, "A HIGH VELOCITY LIFESTYLE"
Bluefin tuna have evolved into high-mass, transoceanic high-speed organisms. Though they weigh from 300 to more than 1,000 pounds and move through a medium eight hundred times denser than air, bluefin can swim in bursts of up to fifty miles per hour. They they are six feet to ten feet in length, robust and muscular, they beat their tail fins at frequencies of thirty cycles per second, an indistinguishable rate, a blur to the human eye.
Bluefin have the ideal streamlined shape–a fusiform body that tapers at both ends, thickest at a point one-third of the way from nose to lunate (crescent-moon-shaped) tail fin. The head is triangularly pyramidal–flat on top, oblique on the sides. At the point of greatest depth are the first dorsal fin, the ventral fins, and the pectoral fins. The first dorsal fin folds back into a groove, to decrease drag. The pectorals can lie back into hollows on the side of the body. Like wings, they are used for gliding and turning, and to provide lift. A line drawn vertically from the dorsal to the ventral fins and horizontally from the tip of the nose through the eye to the fork of the tail fin would cross at the pivot point of the pectorals, at the center of gravity–one third of the way along the fusiform body.
A bluefin's muscular power is concentrated upon the tail fin, which sweeps from side to side, providing 90 percent of the locomotive power–the thunniform mode of swimming. Most fish swim in the subcarangiform mode, flexing their bodies back and forth, creating waves that produce acceleration. But the bluefin body is rigid, with a robust midsection tapering elegantly to a tail–a caudal peduncle–that is round and narrow. Rather than undulate, the thunniform swimmer oscillates, moving its sickle-shaped tail fin like a bird beating its wings, progressing like a boat with a propeller. The tail fin is rigid, unlike the brushy fins of other fish; prehistoric fishermen in Japan used the fin rays of the bluefin for spearheads.