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What exactly is a wahoo?

By Staff | Aug 23, 2012

Most often the peak ono season is between late spring and early fall. They are normally found in abundance during the summer.

LAHAINA – Most of the Lahaina Charter fleet landed ono during July, with 116 hitting the docks.

With the nice weather holding for a couple of days, the boats headed to Molokai.

The best day saw 30 ono caught, with two other days seeing 19 fish hanging.

Wahoo, better known in Hawaiian waters as ono, are the biggest, fastest and meanest mackerel in America. It can reach speeds of up to 45 miles per hour in short bursts, allowing quick capture of prey species.

What exactly is a wahoo? It is a unique member of the tuna family called Scombridae; a “tribe” line of the tunas and mackerels called seerfish. That “tribe” contains the 18 species of Scomberomorus (king and Spanish mackerels) around the world, with the unique wahoo in its only species, Acanthocybium solandri.

Even the names, both common and scientific, are interesting. In 1769, the crew on James Cook’s Endeavour, north of Tahiti, caught the first of these speedsters to be recorded in the Western world. It was scientifically named (Solandri) to honor the great Swedish scientist on board the Endeavour, Dr. D.C. Solander.

The name “wahoo” logically dates from the early whalers and missionary settlers seeing and utilizing the fine edible species in the Hawaiian Islands. Then and now, Oahu, which they pronounced and sometimes spelled “Wahoo,” was an important base. The Hawaiians had long recognized the quality of wahoo with their name “ono,” meaning delicious or tasty.

Wahoo are open ocean swimmers found near the surface in tropical and subtropical waters around the world. Wahoo live in tropical waters year-round but move with the changing seasons, traveling into cooler waters during warm summer months.

Most often the peak ono season is between late spring and early fall, and they are normally found in abundance during the summer. They are frequently found alone or in small, loosely connected groups rather than in compact schools. They are also often found near banks, pinnacles and flotsam (natural debris drifting in the ocean).

They grow fast, attaining a length of three-and-a-half feet the first year. Two- and three-year-olds are five feet long. The maximum reported size for the wahoo is 98 inches total length with a maximum weight of 184 pounds.

Typically, individuals attain a size of 39 to 66 inches. After reaching a length of 38 to 41 inches, individuals grow at a rate of 1.2 to 1.5 inches per month. Latitude appears to influence size, with average weight increasing with distance from the equator, apparently correlated to cooler temperatures.

A 58.4-pound fish caught was five feet, three inches long; a 66-pound fish was five feet, three-and-a-half inches long; with a 71.7-pound fish five feet and six inches long. A 183-pounder was almost seven feet long. Not only do they get long, they get girthy.

The current IGFA all-tackle record is by a woman at 184 pounds, eight ounces on 80-pound test from Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, in 2005. The Hawaii state record is 133 pounds, three ounces in 2000 off Pohoiki, Hawaii. The Lahaina Harbor record is 78 pounds aboard the Charger back in 1984 by Capt. Mike Kearns and crewman Shadow.

Wahoo are sexually mature at one to two years of age. They usually live to about six years of age but can live longer. Male wahoo appear to reach maturity at a smaller size and possibly younger age than females.

Males are able to reproduce when they reach 2.8 feet in length; females are sexually mature when they reach 3.3 feet. They are usually about a year old at this size.

Wahoo start breeding at one-year-old. Female wahoo are very fertile, averaging approximately 40,000 mature eggs per two pounds of body weight. Females can produce up to 60 million eggs during spawning. The larvae are pelagic and prefer shallower water (less than 300 feet or so). The size of wahoo at hatching is 2.5 millimeters. Babies are two-thirds fish and one-third alligator.

Wahoo spawn year-round in tropical waters and during the summer in higher latitudes, including Hawaii, when sea surface temperatures are over 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Individual wahoo spawn multiple times throughout the spawning season. They are very productive, releasing millions of eggs per year to compensate for eggs that might not survive to adulthood.

In the subtropical Pacific Ocean, the wahoo spawning season extends for five months, although in equatorial regions of the Pacific, larval wahoo have been found year-round, suggesting a more prolonged spawning season.

The condition and abundance of wahoo appear to be related to a simple annual reproductive cycle. The condition of wahoo is highest in May before the spawning season and declines through the spawning season, reaching a minimum in July-August. Catch peaks in summer, during the spawning season, suggest that wahoo may gather near the islands to spawn.

Migration related to reproduction may also explain some of the seasonality in catch rates of wahoo near the Hawaiian Islands. The occurrence of wahoo larvae in plankton tows within 15 miles from shore of the main Hawaiian Islands has been reported during June-September.

It appears that wahoo migrate from the open ocean to the islands and banks to reproduce, then leave the islands and banks to feed in the open ocean. Surface currents and eddies generated in the island wakes are mechanisms that could transport larvae and juveniles to the open ocean.

A limited amount of spawning could also occur offshore. However, a move to nearshore waters in May for spawning throughout the summer would be consistent with the increase in condition and catch rates in the nearshore fisheries. The highest abundance areas for wahoo are southwest of the islands year-round but spread northward into coastal banks distributed over 1,200 square miles in summer.