Great White Sharks Proven in Gulf of Mexico

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I’m a little envious of Capt. Scott Fitzgerald.

The guide at Madfish Charters was fishing for amberjack this spring about 8.5 miles off the coast of Panama City Florida when he felt a big bump in his boat according to a report from USA Today.

A large great white shark attacked his trolling motor.

“He knocked the boat two feet to the side, then grabbed the trolling motor and started shaking it in his mouth,” Fitzgerald said.

“That’s when I ran up front and pulled it out of his mouth.”

How cool would that be?

Yes, you are probably thinking I am crazy at this point but I have been a mega-fan of great whites since I first saw “Jaws”. It was the television airing in 1979 but that blockbuster debuted 40 years ago this summer and since then the great white has been the most iconic creature in the ocean.

Photo courtesy NOAA

In 2016, I wrote an article “Great Whites Rising” for our partners CCA in their “Tide” magazine. It was the second great white in the Gulf article in 10 years on their pages. A decade ago, people thought I was crazy for suggesting great whites were in the Gulf.

A few years back, science proved otherwise.

In 2015, “Katharine” and “Betsy” two great whites fitted with satellite transmitters by OCEARCH caused a full flown media circus when they showed up in the Gulf Coast near Florida.

UPDATE: Over the last week another great white has shown up off the Florida coast. It’s name is Costa.

A paper entitled Seasonal Distribution and Historic Trends in Abundance of White Sharks in the Western North Atlantic published by PLOS ONE sheds some fascinating light on white shark populations.

The study which examined great white sightings from a wide variety of sources from 1800 to 2010 showed the range of white shark occurrence extended from the north coast of Newfoundland to as far south as the British Virgin Islands, as far east as the Grand Banks and Bermuda, to as far west as the coast of Texas.

Yes, Texas.

According to NOAA, their earliest recorded white shark was off the coast of Sarasota, Fla on a set line in the winter of 1937. Another specimen was caught in the same area in 1943. In addition, National Marine Fisheries Service officials reported 35 great whites as bycatch in the Japanese longline fishery in the Gulf from 1979 through 1982.

The presence of great whites in the Gulf has been verified but the information was rarely discussed until the appearance of “Katharine” and “Betsy”.

Interestingly, there is a very good chance more great white sightings will take place in the Gulf and possibly Texas waters. The removal of gill nets along the shallow areas of the Gulf Coast beginning in 1994 has given young great white an advantage. They use these areas as “nursery” and for decades were almost all killed in the nets. Great whites are sexually mature at around 15 years of age so we are on our second generation of whites born without the nets.

Research shows most in the Atlantic region are born along the eastern seaboard and then disperse into other areas including the Gulf to feed. The research conducted by OCEARCH is fascinating and by logging onto their website you can track the sharks with the tracking devices and keep up with your favorite sharks. There are numerous great whites as well as other species fitted with these devices.

Technology has opened up an entirely new view of these rare sharks and given us access to information formerly not dreamed of much less available.

Maybe one day “Katharine” or “Betsy” will venture over toward the Texas coast.  It is not beyond the realm of possibility and I for one think it would be incredible.

“Jaws” does live in the Gulf. Right now, there is no proof of any swimming off the Texas coastline but of course, not all of them have satellite transmitters so you never know where they may be.

Chester Moore, Jr.

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