“First for me. Baby great white we caught today a mile off the beach,” the group, Reel Innovation Sportfishing, wrote on Facebook, adding the hashtags #jaws and #sharkweek.
The group’s captain, Jeff Warford, says they were out fishing for thresher sharks about a mile off Seaside Heights, New Jersey on Sunday when something bit their line. The creature charged at the boat, swimming under its bow, and struggled for 15 minutes as Mr Warford reeled it in.
“I didn’t know what it was,” the fisherman told the Philly Voice. “Then I saw it and I was like, ‘Oh my god, it’s a great white.’”
The shark was about seven feet long, and appeared to be a baby. Mr Warford believes that’s why it got caught.
“I think it was young and dumb, didn’t know any better,” he told the Voice. “A bigger great white, they know something’s up when they see the line. This young one obviously was just hungry and wasn’t smart enough to see that it was attached to a line.”
Mr Warford, who has been fishing for 35 years, said this was only his second time seeing a great white in the wild and his first time catching one.
The shark won’t be mounted on Mr Warford’s wall, though. After realizing what it was, he and his crew released the predator back into the sea – which he said took about 20 minutes to do safely with the “super aggressive” fish.
Fortunately for the shark, Mr Warford had caught it with a special “circle hook”, which he says didn’t do any permanent harm.
“That hook will rust out and fall out,” the captain told NBC Philadelphia.
Experts say those hooks, which are mandated for sport fishing in the New Jersey area, are one of several reasons why shark populations have been rebounding in the Northeast. Another reason is climate change, which has warmed waters and increased seal populations – providing plenty of food for hungry sharks.
“It’s just a great sign to see the great white shark of the Northwest Atlantic continuing to rebuild its population, bringing our ocean into balance,” Chris Fischer, founder of the shark research group OCEARCH, told NBC. “There is more life off the eastern seaboard of the United States right now than there was when our parents were alive.”
Even so, Mr Warford doesn’t expect to catch another great white shark any time soon.
“It was a cool experience,” Mr Warford said. “I hope it’s not my last but most likely it will be.”
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