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Wildlife

Bluefin tuna in Atlantic Canada are no longer afraid of humans — and that’s a bad sign

A new documentary portrays the remarkable species as a symbol of a “precariously broken” ocean ecosystem

  • Dec 15, 2017
  • 433 words
  • 2 minutes
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The documentary films The Cove and Blackfish brought global awareness to the plight of dolphins and killer whales, respectively; now, the team behind a new Canadian doc hopes their film will do the same for bluefin tuna. 

Produced by the National Film Board and written and directed by John Hopkins, Bluefin explores the changing relationship between these warm-blooded ocean giants and the men and women who depend on Prince Edward Island’s tuna fishery for their livelihood. Hopkins spent five years filming at sea and in the tiny town of North Lake, P.E.I., known as the “tuna capital of the world,” for the monster 500-kilogram fish that are routinely caught off its shores. In that time, he witnessed an unsettling phenomenon: the bluefin tuna of the eastern Atlantic are so starved, they will approach fishing boats and take bait from a human hand. One fisherman in the film likens the behaviour to a pet begging for a treat. 

This incredible survival strategy masks a disturbing reality: bluefin tuna may seem locally abundant, but oceanwide, scientists estimate their numbers have been reduced by as much as 90 per cent, largely due to overfishing and declining forage fish stocks

“From top predators to baitfish schools that support much of the wildlife at sea, including giant bluefin, whales and sea birds, I found a food chain here in our ocean that is precariously broken,” Hopkins says. 

Through stunning underwater footage, the film also highlights some of the amazing abilities of the tuna, including top swimming speeds of more than 60 kilometres per hour and a highly efficient internal thermoregulation system that allows them to hunt in the icy waters of the North Atlantic. 

“Tuna have been completely off our radar,” Hopkins says. “We are wired to think of them only as food, not extraordinary wildlife. It’s time we finally understood what these incredible creatures truly are.”

Following a successful run on the international festival circuit, Bluefin will have its Toronto premiere on Tuesday, Dec. 19 at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema as part of Hot Docs’ Films Changing the World series. Hopkins will take questions from the audience following the screening. Tickets are available through the Hot Docs box office. Watch the film trailer below: 

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