Locals in French Polynesia love to see photos of fish that we’ve caught or seen during our travels. They comment:
“Oh nice 25lb yellowfin you caught.” They proceed to mention the 100lb tuna they speared or the 800lb marlin their uncle caught. No big deal.
Then they see the photo of a sailfish that swam past us.
“Whoa! Was he just swimming next to you? Slowly?? They are usually flying along. Where is that?”
So this is the only fish photo we have that actually impresses the locals 🙂
We saw the sailfish halfway through our first drift dive in Tahanea’s western pass. We had waited until mid morning to go snorkeling when the current went slack (turning to incoming). After all, we don’t want to get swept out to sea with an outgoing current!
The current started ripping fast and we let it drift us into the lagoon. I hung onto the Lambordinghy’s line. We saw tuna and schools of jacks. Then a magnificent creature appeared from the lagoon swimming upcurrent towards us: the sailfish.
Time stopped as the sailfish approached the five of us. As we watched in amazement, he curved slowly towards us with a curious look and raised his incredible “sail” as if in greeting. Satisfied with his sight-seeing, he banked a turn and continued his swim up current.
We kicked fast with our flippers but the strong incoming current was no match for us. The sailfish made a few relaxed strokes of the tail and effortlessly swam away, in the direction of the open ocean. We saw him for more than 45 seconds – which is actually a very long time and allows our minds many thoughts from awe to slight fright and finally exuberance!
Our hysterical crew cheered and giggled at this encounter as the current swept us into the lagoon. Eventually we drifted into rough waters, which forced us to jump into Lambordinghy and head back to the pass.
How big was the sailfish? My only benchmark was the marlin that we caught in Zihuatanejo and came alongside Aldebaran, so we could measure his length at 8ft, which fishermen estimated at 300lbs. This sailfish looked a bit larger, but then again, everything looks larger underwater – particularly when you’re alone in an uninhabited atoll in the middle of the Pacific Ocean! We felt beyond grateful for the experience of seeing this majestic animal up close in its natural environment.