UWEC’s Wide World of Sports

Popular Australian tuna-throwing sport popular because of tuna fishing industry

Timothy Spierings

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Once a year, competitors from around the globe gather to compete in the Tunarama Festival World Championship of Tuna Toss in Port Lincoln, Australia.

Popular for its tuna fishing industry, Port Lincoln has hosted the tuna tossing championship since 1979, according to the Tunarama Festival website.

Originally, according to Atlas Obscura, tuna throwers throw a frozen solid tuna fish — a Southern Bluefin tuna — attached by a rope as far as possible. 

Today, a rubber 10-kilogram fake fish is used for most rounds. 

ABC News reported that, due to changes in when and how fishers catch tuna, it is becoming more difficult for the industry to find “mort fish” that are the correct size for the toss.

Mort fish is a term that indicates the fish were undersized and died of natural causes. Four mort fish are donated every year for the Tunarama Festival 

The sport found its origin due to the method of unloading fish from boats, according to Atlas Obscura. In fact, hopeful fishermen were often hired based on how far they could throw fish. 

Festival organizers wanted festival goers to partake in a competition that reflected their fishing industry, and they observed a few fishermen throwing fish. From there, the sport was born.

Throwers typically adopt a hammer throw method, spinning around and releasing the tuna just before crossing the line. In fact, a number of tuna toss winners in the past have been competitive hammer throwers.

John Penny, a Port Lincoln local training for the Olympic hammer throw, was the first man to hold the distance record, according to the Tunarama website.

Sean Carlin made the current record in 1998. An Olympic hammer thrower, Carlin tossed his tuna 37.23 meters, the equivalent of 122 feet. Since then, no one has managed to top his record.

To top it off, Carlin also holds the Australian hammer throw record.

Timothy Heyes, the 2019 men’s tuna toss winner, said in an interview with ABC News that hammer throwing’s technique seemed suited to tuna tossing, but that they are quite different.

“It’s heavier and shorter than what I’m used to,” Heyes said. “The weighting is also really different. A hammer has all the weight on the bottom, but the tuna has its weight distributed.”

Matt Staunton, a multiple-time winner of the men’s tuna toss, said that he has seen people try to spin the tuna around their heads before, along with other blunders.

A spectator sued the festival in 1989 due to a 17-pound tuna hitting them in the head from a thrower. That spectator ended up in the hospital.

For children under the age of 10, there is a prawn toss for them to participate in — or as Muscle & Fitness put it, to train future tuna tossers early.

The next Tunarama Festival will be on Jan. 24-27 in Port Lincoln, Australia. More information can be found at tunarama.net.

Spierings can be reached at [email protected].