News Column

High School Kids Catch a Great White Shark

April 12, 2013
Great white shark (file photo)
Great white shark (file photo)

Spotting a great white shark off South Florida's beaches, experts say, is "kind of a freak" incident.

But a group of four Atlanta high-schoolers kite fishing for sailfish near Hollywood Beach this week proved a local encounter with a great white is quite possible.

The four students sailed out on the Hooked Up charter boat Tuesday and had placed a large shark bait on one of the kites, said ship's mate Paul Paolucci. Suddenly, a 12-foot white shark bit.

Paolucci, who described the sighting as exciting but a little frightening for a few of the young fishermen, said he had never caught a great white in his 11 years fishing in South Florida waters.

"It's pretty rare here," he said. "I've heard of maybe two or three caught in the last 15 years around here. That's pretty lucky that it happened."

The students released the shark.

Experts on great white sharks agreed that sightings of the species, which can reach lengths of up to 21 feet, are uncommon in South Florida.

In Palm Beach County, lifeguard Andy Birmingham said he and his colleagues in the county's north district had not seen a great white recently, and the county is not on any type of alert for the species since Tuesday's incident in Broward County.

Van Blakeman, of Narcosis Dive Charters in Riviera Beach, was out fishing Wednesday near the Palm Beach Inlet and did not see any great whites.

"Typically there are no white sharks here at all, except if they have migrated from the pack that they run with," Blakeman said, adding that these sharks usually stick to areas north of Jacksonville, where water temperatures are slightly cooler. "They don't stay here, they just might be passing through."

For those wishing for an encounter with a great white in South Florida, this time of year is probably the only chance you will get, said Neil Hammerschlag, research assistant professor for the Division of Marine Affairs and Policy at University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science in Virginia Key.

"If you are going to catch one, this is the time," he said.

Hammerschlag, who said he wasn't surprised to hear about the students' encounter, said these fish are attracted to aggregations of spawning amberjack in local waterways.

"I don't think there is a large number of (great whites), but occasionally they are sighted," Hammerschlag said.

In January, two great white sharks were spotted off the coast of Nassau County, north of Jacksonville. In March, a third great white was spotted in the same area, and one was caught and released in Pinellas County.

John Carlson, research biologist with NOAA Fisheries Service, said South Floridians should be more wary of bull sharks and black tip sharks. Both of these species often confuse surfers or humans floating on a raft with prey. Carlson also said swimmers should stay away from areas with bait, and should avoid swimming in the dark.

"Swimming at dawn or dusk, when the visibility is lower, may be a time when a shark confuses a human for its prey," he said.

Great white facts

Size/age:

-- Adults average 13 17.1 feet long and weigh 1,500 2,400 pounds. Females are generally larger

-- The biggest ever caught was off Prince Edward Island in 1993. It was 20 feet long.

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Largest predatory fish in the sea

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Lives about 25 years

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Have an enormous liver that can weigh up to 24 percent of its entire weight

-- May use and lose more than 1,000 teeth in its life time

Appetite:

--

After a meal, scientists estimate that a great white can go up to 3 months before eating again

-- Consumes about 11 tons of food in one year.

--

Capable of eating sea lions whole

-- Rarely attack people; when they do, it's because they are mistaken for their usual seal prey

Habits:

-- Live along coasts of all continents except Antarctica

-- Some scientists believe there are less than 10,000 in the world

-- Do not start breeding until they're at least 20

-- More than 70 percent of great white victims survive because the shark, after realizing it has made a mistake, doesn't finish off its prey

SOURCE: Sharkfacts.org

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Source: Copyright Palm Beach Post (FL) 2013