The research shows before World War I, Atlantic bluefins were rarely captured and even coastal sightings were exciting events. One bluefin measuring nearly 9 feet in length washed ashore in Germany in 1903. Those captured during the 1920s weighed as much as 1,550 pounds.
After World War I, burgeoning quantities of tuna were caught. Major tuna fishing countries at the time -- such as Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Germany -- that recorded virtually no bluefin landings in 1910, reported nearly 5,500 tons by 1949.
Scientists said such booming catches helped strip the Atlantic bluefin population in a very short time, with the species virtually disappearing during the early 1960s.
The Census of Marine Life, based in Washington, is a global network of researchers in more than 80 nations engaged in a 10-year initiative to assess and explain the diversity, distribution, and abundance of marine life in the oceans. The network will release the first Census of Marine Life in 2010.
The bluefin study is to appear in a special issue of the journal Fisheries Research.