by Becca Shelton, RJD intern
If someone had told me that there was a chance I was going to see a great white on one of our trips, I honestly don’t think I would have believed them. White sharks happen to be my favorite shark and I honestly can’t explain how it felt seeing one in person. Most of you have probably already heard the news since it was a phenomenal occurrence but in case you haven’t, here’s a firsthand account of what happened.
Coral Shores High School and a TV crew joined us for a trip to the reef. We already had two amazing days during the prior weekend where we were fortunate to catch some rare animals: an estimated 11 ft scalloped hammerhead and an estimated 13 ft endangered sawfish (which was immediately released in good condition). We were trying to predict what kinds of sharks we would catch and people were joking around by saying a great white. Great white sharks normally prefer cooler waters but there had been around 15 sightings nearby during the prior two weeks, so we crossed our fingers but I didn’t really hold out much hope. The odds were, unknowingly, in our favor as we set off towards the reef.
The day started off a little slow but soon became very busy. We ended up catching one Caribbean reef shark, three sandbar sharks and two sizable great hammerheads. It was a pretty great day with those sharks alone. Any trip that we catch a shark is a great trip but then the unthinkable happened. We pulled in one of our drumlines and noticed the hook timer had been popped for 5 minutes and called “shark on!” As we pulled up the shark, we couldn’t believe our eyes! When Captain Curt announced it was a great white, the boat burst into an uproar of excitement. Everything all happened so fast! When the shark was about 5 feet from the surface, it managed to sever through the 900lb monofilament line and the hook popped out of its mouth as it swam away. We didn’t tag the animal or take samples but it didn’t matter, we saw an estimated 11 ft juvenile great white shark!
Since this was such an amazing and rare event, other RJD members wanted to write about their experience with the white shark too:
“Catching a great white shark is something our team is always fantasizing about, nothing we ever truly thought to be possible. As I was pulling in the line I could tell there was a large animal on the other end and was hoping for a Tiger. When Captain Curt whispered the words “Great White” I was at first in denial. After a few seconds it hit me that this was real life, and RJD had finally caught the infamous Great White Shark. Everyone on the boat (including myself) let out a joyous scream, filled with excitement that I cannot even begin to describe. I have never had such an adrenaline rush in my entire life. AMAZING! I could not contain myself; my heart was beating rapid fire and I was dancing around the boat with the biggest smile on my face. This was one of the absolute best days ever! Looking back on this experience I realized how truly blessed I am to get these incredible opportunities. I am surrounded by the most amazing team out there, and experiencing things most people would never even dream of.” ~ Emily Nelson, RJD Intern
“It was amazing and exciting to see a great white in the waters off the Florida Keys. But most of my attention was focused on the absolute uproar of students and staff as everyone tried to get a good look at this rare catch. As one passenger described it, almost everyone on board acted like 12-year-old girls at a Justin Bieber concert. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard that much excited screaming. Every trip, we go around and ask the students coming out on the trip introduce themselves and list their favorite shark. Normally, at the end of introductions I say something like: “Well, folks who are hoping to see a bull shark or blacktip we have a pretty good chance of making your dreams come true. Those of you whose favorite is the Great White, I’m afraid you’re out of luck”. For once, I was wrong.” ~ Catherine MacDonald, RJD Lab Manager
My time with RJD is sadly coming to an end and I can honestly say it has been one of the best experiences of my life. Every shark that we catch is truly a magical experience and the great white was the best going away present I have ever received! Thanks to RJD, Curt-A-Sea Aquatic Adventures and Coral Shores High School for sharing this amazing day!