Lights, camera, sunfish! Discovery documentary take 2

Last year, the sunfish research project was lucky enough to spark the interest of the Daily Planet show on the Discovery Channel and we spent a great day out on the water filming our work for a brief (10 minute) documentary. However as the saying goes never work with animals on TV… the sunfish must have caught a case of camera shyness and we had no fish to work with! Fortunately Lara, the director, still thought our work was intriguing enough to give it another go this year so time for take 2!

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The Marine Protected Area authorities very kindly lent us their high power RIB for the day (as it would have been a bit of a squeeze on the fishermen’s wooden rowboats!) so we set off early with Valentina and Giorgio (from the MPA) and Kevin our cameraman. It was a really hot day even at 8am and we watched the fishermen pull the nets feeling relived to be out of the sun but also a bit guilty for not helping! After raising the nets half way, the crew stopped for a break and to let a group of divers swim with the sunfish (the diver leader, Robbie, often helps to empty the nets when they become too full of sunfish to lift and with other in-water net problems so this is one of his job perks!).  Robbie very kindly took my Go-Pro on one of his dives to capture some amazing underwater footage of the sunfish!

After he returned, it transpired that there were no commercial species of fish in the nets so the fishermen decided to go back to port early without emptying the Tonnarella. This was a real blow to our hopes of tagging a sunfish on film, and although I offered to pay the fishermen more than usual to raise the nets, they were just too tired (of course they had also raised the nets at 3am that morning.) So we returned to Santa Margherita where Kevin interviewed me about our work (little bit nerve-wracking!) and we were able to plan our afternoon trip to the Tonnarella for the last net pull of the day at 4pm.

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We arrived a little early to demonstrate on camera how we locate and collect our equipment after it is released from the sunfish, and then we waited for the fishermen to pull the nets. The weather, which had been perfect flat calm and hot in the morning was now cool with a strong breeze and we guiltily watched the fishermen having to work harder and harder to pull the boat against the wind.

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But luck was with us this time! 19 sunfish flapped in the nets, including a gorgeous specimen weighing 22kg to show off to the camera. We took full samples from this individual which behaved beautifully, no wild fins slaps today, the fish lay calmly while we took tissue samples and measurements before we released it into the water in under 4 minutes! A perfect end to the day 🙂

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Lawrence and I have also been collecting footage throughout the field season of our work on ocean sunfish so this will be added to the film taken on the day and hopefully some of our videos will be added to the documentary! Watch this space 🙂

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