Five British college students out for a weekend kayaking adventure did not intend to do any fishing, but their plan changed with they encountered a 7-foot-long bluefin tuna floating on the surface 300 yards off Cornwall.
The women, from Oxford Brookes University, towed their unusual catch to shore and turned it over to researchers, who are mystified as to what might have caused the tuna's death.
Atlantic bluefin, which often sell for astronomical sums to sashimi buyers, are endangered. Catching them is legal only under strict guidelines, so the women will not be cashing in on their remarkable discovery.
But the bizarre catch, and a fish story they will never forget, is generating headlines.
Claire Wallerstein, a marine mammal stranding coordinator for the Cornwall Wildlife Trust, told BBC News that she was informed of the catch as the women were landing on the beach.
"Someone came to my house to tell me there was a dead dolphin on the beach," she said. "[The kayakers] were coming out of the sea with this huge monster, but then I could see that it was a tuna."
The tuna was delivered Monday to the University of Exeter's Cornwall campus, where pathology tests were to be conducted.
"The specimen will be used for educational purposes as it will be of great interest to students about the biology of these inspiring fish," said Dr. Matthew Witt, of the school's Environment and Sustainability Institute.
The discovery was made by Sarah Little, Charlotte Chambers, Shauna Creamer, Hannah Ford and Laura Pickervance.
Little, 22, told Kent Online that the group thought the 300-pound tuna was a shark when it was first spotted, and approached it cautiously.
"We were saying, 'No, you go look at it,' because we thought it might have been a shark," Little recalled. "Charlotte and Laura jumped out of their boat and started trying to move it with their paddle, but realized it was dead."
Once ashore, the tuna was too heavy for the women to haul onto the beach, but they received help from a gathering crowd. (Atlantic bluefin average about 550 pounds, but much larger specimens are not uncommon.)
"Even the guys couldn't pull it out of the sea, so we took our kayak back into the water and tried to push it under the fish," Little said.
The kayak turned out to be a perfect tuna cart, and the catch eventually was hauled away.
Kent Online reports that a smaller bluefin tuna was illegally sold last year for more than $700,000, and that a 489-pound bluefin was sold in Japan for more than $1 million.
While it would have been nice if the students could have cashed in on their prize, Little acknowledged, selling the tuna did not enter their minds.
"Money never had is money never lost," she said. "We've walked away with a fantastic story. I'll be placing the pictures of the day on my wall. It's been incredible."
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