Along with lighting strikes, storms, and electrical malfunctions, there are a thousand different things that can strand a boat in the open ocean. And after seeing what happened off the coast of Australia last weekend, we can now add “vindictive billfish” to that list. In one of the more unusual deep-sea rescue scenarios, a crew of Australian anglers had to call for help last Sunday after a marlin they’d hooked disabled their boat.
The crew was trolling for billfish roughly 20 miles off the southeast coast of Australia on Feb. 19, according to Marine Rescue NSW, a volunteer-led rescue group based in New South Wales. The crew’s troubles began around 1 p.m., soon after they hooked into the large black marlin.
The disabled boat was towed nearly 20 miles back to dry land. courtesy of Marine Rescue NSW
“It was a freaky thing,” the skipper explained on Monday. “We were fighting [the fish] and it did a U-turn and slammed into the engine.”
The marlin, which the crew estimated at around 154 pounds, charged right at the 22-foot sport fishing boat. Leading with its large bill, the fish punched a hole in the engine’s cowling and immediately cut off power to the propellers. The skipper then had the crew cut the line while he called in the incident to Marine Rescue NSW.
The Merimbula 30 reached the disabled boat after about an hour. The rescue vessel then towed it all the way to the Kianinny boat ramp in Tathra, which took closer to two hours. Unit commander and veteran rescuer Bill Blakeman led the effort, and he said it was one of the most bizarre rescues he’s conducted over the years.
“I’ve had a couple of shark-related incidents over the years where they attacked propellers, but never a marlin disabling a vessel,” said Blakeman.
When Billfish Fight Back
Marlin and other billfish species use their sword-like beaks to slash and stab at prey. They’re also some of the fastest and most acrobatic fish in the sea, known for making searing runs and jumping clear out of the water. Put the two qualities together and these giant fish can inflict some serious damage when hooked. Even though it’s exceedingly rare, anglers will occasionally end up on the business end of their bills.
Last summer, a 73-year-old woman was stabbed by a 100-pound sailfish off the Florida coast. One of her friends on the boat had hooked the sailfish, and at one point during the fight, it jumped out of the water and over the stern, where it stabbed her in the thigh with its bill. She told officials that it all happened so fast she didn’t have time to react.
Examples of billfish attacking boats aren’t as well-documented. But these events are likely more common than some anglers realize, according to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.
“Billfish, especially swordfish, sometimes ‘attack’ boats, floating debris, and even whales,” the DNR explains on its website. “Zane Grey [once] recounted a grueling all-day battle with a huge swordfish that, at nightfall, began to chase flying fish, apparently unaware of the hook in its mouth. The worn-out angler finally cut the fish loose, fearing that in the dark it might ram the boat and sink it.”
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