An eyeball the size of a softball that washed up on Pompano Beach last week didn’t come from some strange deep-sea monster. It almost certainly belonged to a swordfish, and not a particularly monstrous one at that.
After examining a beachcomber’s curious find, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said Monday that all the evidence points to a prize targeted by both sport and commercial anglers along the South Florida coast.
The finding came as no surprise to David Kerstetter and his fisheries students at Nova Southeastern University’s Oceanographic Center in Dania Beach. They enjoyed a good week of chuckles over the Internet buzz, which speculated that the eerie blue orb had come from everything from giant squid to undiscovered sea serpents.
“We kind of knew it was a swordfish from the get-go,” said Kerstetter, an NSU research scientist and adjunct professor, who has studied the fish for more than a decade and been eye to eye with hundreds of them on numerous fishing trips. “We figured there was a sword-fisherman out there rolling on his deck with laughter over the whole brouhaha.’’
The swordfish spends much of its life swimming through inky darkness, swimming from 800 to 2,000 feet down during the day and then typically moving nearer to the surface at night.
“That’s why they have those large eyes, because they feed in the dark,’’ said Kerstetter. To further enhance their low-light vision, swordfish have specialized organs that heat their eyes in the cold depths, which helps speed reaction and improve resolution, he said.
Joan Herrera, curator of collections at FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg, said state experts found that the eye’s color, size and structure, as well as the bone around it, all pointed to a swordfish. Cuts around the eye also suggested it had been removed by a knife and either discarded or lost. The FWC intended to conduct genetic testing to confirm the analysis.
The Florida Straits have been closed to commercial long-line fishing for swordfish for more than a decade to protect the fishery, but commercial buoy-gear fishery is allowed from the Middle Keys to West Palm Beach. Sports anglers also target the hard-fighting fish, which is popular table fare.
While removing the eye is time-consuming and not common practice, Kerstetter said some old-timers would collect the small capsule of bone holding the eye and use it as an ashtray.
Though swordfish can top 700 pounds in the Atlantic, most caught off South Florida are considerably smaller. Based on photos, Kerstetter said the eye might have come from a 200- to 250-pound fish but he acknowledged that was a rough guess.
“I’m just, excuse the pun, eye-balling it,’’ he said. “It’s a good-sized fish but certainly not a monster.’’