Animal of the Month
June 2019

Name: Atlantic Bluefin Tuna

Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Scombridae
Genus: Thunnus
Subgenus: Thunnus
Species: T. thynnus

Size: 6.5 feet long, capable of reaching 15 feet.
Weight: 550lbs, capable of reaching 2,000lbs.

Characteristics: Shiny, streamlined body, small pectoral and dorsal fins, skinny tail with large tail fin.
Metallic blue on top, silvery-white on bottom, top fins yellow.
Behavior: Migratory, travels in large schools.
Preferred Habitat: Open ocean.
Range: The Atlantic Ocean, from Iceland to the Mediterranean and the Gulf of Mexico.
Diet: Prefers mackerel, sea herring, sand lace and squid. Will also eat sea stars, kelp and other fish.

Lifespan:15 years average, 40 years max.

Status: Endangered.

Say the word "tuna" and many people will instantly think of a fishy meal. But have you ever wondered just what is a tuna? Tuna are a kind of bony fish that have been highly desirable as food for hundreds of years. The Atlantic Bluefin tuna is the largest of these fishes. This species is also one of the most endangered. Atlantic Bluefin tuna can be found in the open ocean across the Atlantic, from the Gulf of Mexico to the waters of Iceland and the Mediterranean.

Atlantic Bluefin tunas grow dramatically. When they are born they are al-most microscopic. Over the years they reach around 6 feet in length. If they can survive long enough, they can reach around 15 feet and weight 2,000 pounds! These tuna migrate across the ocean in search of smaller animals to eat. They have the sharpest eyesight of all bony fishes, which helps them find food. They particularly like mackerel, sea herring, sand lace and squid, though they are not picky and will eat things like sea stars and kelp.

Atlantic Bluefin tuna are among the fastest fish in the ocean; they pull their fins in when they swim to give them extra speed. This lets them swim up to 43 miles per hour! Unlike most fish, Atlantic Bluefin tuna are warm-blooded. This gives them the advantage of hunting for prey in colder waters. They can also dive up to 4,000 feet! These hardy features put them near the top of the food chain. Still, they are hunted by a variety of other animals, including sharks and whales. Like many species of shark, they must swim constantly with their mouths open in order to breathe.

Once a year, Atlantic Bluefin tuna spawn. Two major groups of these fish spawn separately-one in the Gulf of Mexico and the other in the Mediterranean. Adults do not reproduce until they are 8 years old. The males and females spray out sperm and eggs at the same time like salmon. A female can produce as many as 30 million eggs! This ensures that many of the eggs will survive and hatch.

Atlantic Bluefin tuna are endangered. They are valued across the world for their meat, especially by the Japanese sushi market. The Mediterranean population is the most hunted. Many of these fish are taken illegally, which makes it difficult to protect them. Atlantic Bluefin tuna are particularly vulnerable to extinction, as they cannot reproduce until they are eight years old. Fewer and fewer adults are left when fishermen take them, which means fewer are born in the wild each year. Other species of Bluefin tuna are also threatened due to overfishing. To lose these species would not only be a terrible loss of natural beauty, but also a major blow to the other animals that depend on Bluefin tuna for food. On the other hand, other species of animal may actually overpopulate without the tuna to keep them in check. Each species is like a separate thread in a great blanket, without which the entire blanket unravels.

Fortunately, the Atlantic Bluefin tuna have many good people who are fighting to protect them. In 2014, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) instated strict fishing quotas. The ICCAT also has pushed for a global ban on Atlantic Bluefin tuna by listing them in CITES; however this has not yet come to fruition. Meanwhile organizations including the World Wildlife Fund, Oceana and others have active programs to track and advocate for these wonderful animals. With hard work and commitment, the Atlantic Bluefin tuna and other related species will be swimming in the oceans for future generations to behold.

To learn more about these fish and how to save them, check out these organizations:

World Wildlife Fund, Bluefin Tuna page-WWF offers information on Bluefin tuna and their tagging operations to help protect them.

PEW Charitable Trusts, Global Tuna Conservation-PEW is fighting to pro-tect tuna species by pushing for responsible fishing and cracking down on poach-ers.

Oceana, Atlantic Bluefin Tuna page-Oceana has detailed information on these fish, and is always working to protect them.

PLEASE also consider not eating tuna in any form, sushi or otherwise! The less that are taken from the sea, the faster the species can recover!


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