The Gulf Stream: Fish Species
The vast range of species, particularly larger fish, attracts charter boats and fishermen from all over the world, chugging out into the Gulf Stream in search of the big one. And while these charter boats target a multitude of different "meat" and "sport" fish, including yellowfin tuna, grouper, rockfish, snapper, or mahi mahi, there are a few varieties in particular that stand out as true trophies of the Gulf Stream fisherman. One of the most popular species for the sport fisherman is the blue marlin.
The blue marlin, though not abundant, can be found off the coast of North Carolina in large numbers, and is one of the most prized fish in the Gulf Stream. Many marinas, charter boats, museums and cultural centers don the blue marlin's image, or a cast replica of a marlin that was once fished out of the Gulf Stream. For example, the Hatteras Village Public Library on the Outer Banks showcases a blue marlin in a glass case on the outside of the building for all passer-bys to admire. This particular marlin shattered the world record in 1962, and helped earn Hatteras Village the nickname of "Blue Marlin Fishing Capital of the World."
The marlin is a long, angular fish with the upper jaw pointed in the shape of a spear, similar to a swordfish. A long pectoral fin runs along the top of the marlin, and the top half of the blue marlin is a shimmery cobalt blue, while the underside is silver. The male blue marlins are typically around 300 pounds, while the female marlins can weight well over 1,000 pounds.
Spawning for blue marlins typically begins in warmer tropical waters with a number remaining in these waters year-round. Marlins, like many other species, use the Gulf Stream primarily for migration purposes to take advantage of different feeding opportunities during warmer and cooler seasons. The marlins are not picky and can feed on a variety of fish, especially tuna, squid and mackerel. They tend to attack schools of fish or invertebrates near the surface of the water, swimming through the schools at high speeds, slashing at fish with their bills, and then coming back to eat the dead or stunned ones.
The most popular method of catching blue marlins is via charter boat, with large shiny lures topping off larger bait fish, such as mullets, that can splash in the water and attract a lot of attention.
Another popular catch in the Gulf Stream, one that fishermen tend to keep an eye out for, is the dolphin fish. The dolphin fish, or mahi mahi, (Hawaiian for "strong-strong,") is similar to the blue marlin in that it's a very unique and unusual looking species. Beautifully colored with an iridescent blue and gold body, yellow fins, and forked tail, the average size of a dolphin is 3-6 pounds, but they can be as large as 5 feet and reach 70 pounds. The most distinguishing feature of a dolphin, besides the bright color, is the head. The male's head is rounded, while the female's slopes down to the mouth, appearing almost flat. This makes the dolphin fish an unmistakable catch for even the most novice fisherman.
Like the blue marlin, the dolphin like to stick to tropical waters and use the Gulf Stream for feeding and migration, namely on smaller fish and invertebrates that are tangled in the sea grass.
Unlike the blue marlin, which is primarily caught for its status as a prize sporting fish, the dolphin is one of the tastiest fish to traverse the Gulf Stream. Visitors who aren't interested in catching their own meal can often find dolphin at local restaurants and fish markets, particularly in the summer months of June, July and August when the dolphin frequents the waters off the North Carolina Coast.
The modern fishermen and scientists who study and revere the Gulf Stream are not the first people to notice this unusual ecosystem, and the Gulf Stream, as a warm current that hugs the coast, has effectively been recognized for hundreds of years.