Posted by: admin | June 5, 2013

Giant shark caught off Southland coast stuns sport fishing world


 

Giant shark caught off Southland coast stuns sport fishing world

Conservationists are upset that a 1,323.5-pound mako shark was taken from the waters off Huntington Beach as part of a reality TV show taping. But scientists see an opportunity to study species behavior.

Record-breaking shark

Kent Williams, owner of New Fishall Bait Co., stands next to a 1323.5-pound mako shark at the company’s headquarters in Gardena on Tuesday. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times / June 4, 2013)

By Anh Do, Kate Mather and Joe Mozingo, Los Angeles Times

June 4, 2013, 7:57 p.m.

"Yeehaw!" the sport fishermen yelled when they saw the fins slice the gray channel water off Huntington Beach.

The chum of chopped mackerel and sardines had worked. The fight was on — and so were the cameras.

The six men had motored out in the June gloom Monday morning for more than a day of fun. They were filming a reality show called "The Professionals" for the Outdoor Channel.

The way they tell it, they hooked a giant mako and Jason Johnston, from Mesquite, Texas, got in the pole harness to reel it in. He grunted and slipped and slid for 2 1/2 hours as the shark ran the line out almost a mile, thrashing and jumping 20 feet in the air. They finally pulled it to the side of the boat, the Breakaway, and tied it up with a steel cable.

By the time they hauled it to Huntington Harbor and had it weighed at a processing plant in Gardena, they realized they appeared to have broken a record for the largest mako to be caught by line, 1,323.5 pounds.

The men posed next to the cobalt blue fish and opened its jaws, revealing its dagger-sharp rows of teeth to the cameras. They breathlessly recounted how, if anything went wrong, they would have ended up as "lunch" or "at the bottom of the sea."

Johnston, 40, described it to one television reporter as "a gigantic nightmare looking to reap horrible terror on anything it comes across."

One of Earth’s most ancient and mythologized creatures still manages to stir humans’ imaginations, scratching that atavistic urge to bring in a monster. But even before it became clear that the catch was for a reality show, plenty of people wondered why they really had to kill such a magnificent animal.

Wouldn’t just pulling it close and photographing it have been enough?

Ben Ahadpour, who owns the marina the fisherman left from, said the captain of the boat, Matt Potter, 33, of Huntington Beach, knew the dock rules prohibited bringing in sharks.

"He shouldn’t have done that," Ahadpour said. "They could have done a catch and release. They can bring it up close, take a picture and let the shark go. But I guess they’re so excited about their catch and getting his two minutes of fame."

David McGuire, the director of Shark Stewards, a Bay Area nonprofit that advocates for the protection of sharks, said he was shocked.

"It’s really something you see more in Florida than in California, where we have more of a conservation ethic," he said. "People should be viewing these sharks as wonderful animals that are important to the ocean and admiring how beautiful they are."

He lamented that so many shows about sharks continue to evoke Jaws-like terror rather than science. "These kind of reality shows are not reality. The reality is we’re overfishing sharks, and this macho big-game attitude should be a relic of the past."

Keith Poe, a sport fisherman who tags and releases sharks for conservationists, said that most anglers are releasing sharks these days, but might keep a potential record-breaker .

Biggest sharks caught

The 1,323.5-pound-plus mako shark caught off the coast of Huntington Beach could break a world record. Current record-holders of select shark species:

Type
World record
Location taken
Date
Calif. record

White
2,664 lbs.
Ceduna, Australia
1959
NA

Mako
1,221 lbs.
Chatham, Mass.
2001
1,098 bs., 12 oz.

Thresher
767 lbs., 3 oz.
Bay of Islands, New Zealand
1983
575 lbs.

Blue
528 lbs.
Montauk, N.Y.
2001
258 lbs., 8 oz.

Sources: Calif. Dept. of Fish and Game; International Game Fish Assn. Graphics reporting by Julie Sheer

Los Angeles Times

"I wouldn’t keep it, but the general sportfishing community would say it’s acceptable," Poe said.

Potter, whose nickname is "Mako Matt," doesn’t buy any of the criticism, adding that he unloaded the shark at a public dock — not the marina. "It’s just like any other fishing. The state limit for mako is two per person per day."

He said he had five passengers out for three days and kept only the big shark. And he said he did not break the marina’s rules because he used the public docks.

Jack Vitek, the world records coordinator for the International Game Fish Assn., said the catch was "enormous."

He said that just seeing a fish weighing more than 1,000 pounds, much less catching one, was rare. And the shortfin mako is a particularly difficult quarry because of its unusual speed.

"They’re a very elite game fish, and to have the all-tackle IGFA record is any kind of big game angler’s dream," he said.

The Florida-based group has tracked world-record catches since 1939 — though some of its big catches date to the 1860s. Vitek said that if Monday’s haul checks out, it would break the standing mako record set in July 2001, when a 1,221-pound shark was hauled in off the coast of Chatham, Mass.

The largest fish catch on record was a 2,664-pound great white shark reeled in off the coast of Australia in 1959.

Makos are common off the coast of Southern California, which is considered a nursery ground for the young sharks. They tend to stay in open ocean and don’t venture into the surf zone, scaring swimmers and surfers as great whites do.

Makos typically feed off small fish such as mackerel and sardines, and move on to larger fish as they get older, according to Nick Wegner, a fisheries research biologist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla.

They’re some of the fastest sharks in the ocean, Wegner said, which makes the catch all the more interesting. Unlike most fish, makos can warm up their core body temperatures, making their muscles move faster.

"They’re a fascinating animal," he said.

Wegner said some of his colleagues had reached out to the fishermen who caught the shark, hoping to collect samples to learn more about the fish. The shark was probably a female based on its size, he said; male makos typically max out at 500 to 600 pounds.

His colleagues are particularly interested in the shark’s DNA and stomach contents. Though the sharks typically feed off fish, a small seal pup was once found in a captured mako’s stomach, indicating they might have other food sources.

"It’s pretty rare to catch a fish this big," he said. "If we can see what’s in the stomach, that gives us an idea of what they’re eating."

At Cal State Long Beach, marine biology professor Chris Lowe also sees a rare opportunity, particularly if the shark was pregnant, as photos of it seemed to indicate. One of his graduate students, Kady Lyons, hopes to get tissue samples of the shark’s liver and those of its pups, if there are any, to measure levels of contaminants such as DDT, PCBs and the pesticide chlordane.

"We can get an idea of where they’re encountering these contaminants and how much they pass on to their young," he said.

The scientists described the mako population as stable and did not express scientific concerns about the catch.

"It’s always good to know that those big sharks are out there," Wegner said. "On a personal level, it makes me a little sad to take such a big animal out of the ocean."

Giant shark caught off Southland coast stuns sportfishing world – latimes.com

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