The strange softball-sized eyeball that washed up on a Florida beach appears to be from a swordfish, wildlife officials say.
“Experts on site and remotely have viewed and analyzed the eye, and, based on its color, size and structure, along with the presence of bone around it, we believe the eye came from a swordfish,” Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission curator Joan Herrera said in a statement Monday.
The FWC will conduct genetic testing to confirm that the eye belongs to a swordfish. Either way, the eye’s owner has likely met an unfortunate end, according to Herrera.
“Based on straight-line cuts visible around the eye, we believe it was removed by a fisherman and discarded,” Herrera said.
This time of year is prime swordfish season in the waters off South Florida. Atlantic swordfish are highly migratory and can be found as deep as 2,000 feet below the surface. They can grow to be more than half a ton but aren’t exactly slowed down by the weight -- swordfish have been clocked swimming as fast as 50 miles per hour.
Many fisherman catch swordfish at night, when large female swordfish tend to migrate to the surface. The Northern Atlantic swordfish was once heavily overfished, but management plans enacted in the late 1990s have built the population up again.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration sets strict guidelines on how commercial fisherman can catch swordfish. If they are using longline gear, fishermen are required to use special hooks and types of bait that are less likely to capture sea turtles. Much of the Gulf of Mexico is closed to longline fishing in order to reduce the amount of undersized swordfish caught by fishermen.
At present, recreational fisherman account for just 1 percent of the swordfish caught each year by the U.S., according to NOAA. Under Florida state regulations, anglers are limited to one swordfish per person per day, with up to four swordfish per recreational vessel.