National Geographic Daily News
A Mako shark in a tank at the New Fishall Bait Company that weighed in at 1323.5 pounds at the company's headquarters in Gardena, Calif.

This mako shark caught on June 3, 2013 off the coast of California weighed in at 1,323.5 pounds.

Photograph by Richard Vogel, AP Photo

Brian Clark Howard

National Geographic

Published June 6, 2013

On Monday, a group of anglers from Texas, Colorado, and California hooked a colossal fish off Southern California. After a long struggle, they reeled in a shortfin mako shark that they say tipped the scale at 1,323.5 pounds (600 kilograms).

The shark is 11 feet (3.3 meters) long and 8 feet (2.4 meters) in diameter, Kent Williams, a certified weight master at New Fishall Bait Company in Gardena, California, told the Los Angeles Times. The massive mako was caught by a team of professional hunters and fishers who produce reality television for the Outdoor Channel. The three-day, deep-sea excursion was being filmed for the show Jim Shockey's The Professionals, a program that aims to document the lives of Outdoor Channel crew.

The anglers are storing their catch in a deep-freeze locker in Gardena, and they are applying for a world record from the International Game Fish Association. The certification process is expected to take around two months, because the fishing group needs time to analyze the specimen and tackle used and to interview eyewitnesses.

The previous record holder for a mako was a 1,221-pound (554-kilogram) catch made in July 2001 off the coast of Chatham, Massachusetts.

Corey Knowlton, a co-host of The Professionals and an expedition guide, told National Geographic that the team had spent 30 to 40 days on the water over the past four years looking for a big mako to take. A few days ago, Knowlton and the other anglers had been trying their luck about 15 miles (24 kilometers) off Huntington Beach, by dropping chopped mackerel and ground chum into the water.

They were rewarded with the sight of fins slicing the water, so they tossed out giant hooks. One took, and the team spent two and a half hours of "struggling, slipping, and sliding" to bring in the creature, according to published reports.

"They fight really hard, it was a very aggressive predator," said Knowlton. "It was trying to eat the birds and everything around it. It took the bait immediately and ran, ran, ran."

Knowlton added that the big fish jumped out of the water five times. "When it first jumped we all screamed, we were going crazy," he said.

Crew member Jason Johnston, who lives in Mesquite, Texas, climbed into a harness to work the fish. He described the scene to the Times as "mayhem" and "the scariest thing I've ever done in my life."

Knowlton said the group had caught several makos up to 900 pounds (408 kilograms) over the past few years, but their goal had been to catch something over 1,000 pounds (454 kilograms), to have something sizable to donate to science. "They haven't had one this big. So we were really, really excited to finally see it, it was a giant behemoth."

Knowlton said Mary Blasius at the University of California, Long Beach, is excited to examine the specimen, and that the team has also reached out to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). A mold is also being made.

Mako Science

Suzanne Kohin, a shark biologist at the NOAA lab in La Jolla, California, told National Geographic that her agency has been in touch with the anglers about the shark. "Samples will be valuable to us, because we have a hard time accessing these large individuals," she said.

"We prefer to tag and release them, to study their movement patterns, but it is useful to sample. We may learn something about its reproductive status or foraging ecology," she added. (Related: "100 Million Sharks Killed Every Year.")

Kohin said the mako is most likely a female because males rarely reach a size bigger than 600 pounds (272 kilograms). She said it is likely over 15 years old, although testing is needed to confirm. Kohin added that shortfin makos are relatively common off Southern California, where females often give birth to pups in a "nursery."

"It is very rare for us to find these large makos—although of anyone, recreational fishers are the ones to catch them," said Kohin. She added that government surveys tend to use smaller hooks, and such large sharks may be powerful enough to bite through commercial drift nets or wriggle off longlines.

Makos tend to stay out in the open ocean, feasting on small fish like mackerel and sardines, so they rarely interact with people. They are among the fastest of all sharks. Fishermen routinely catch makos up to six feet (two meters) long.

The fishermen have pointed out that their big catch left them well within their legal state limit of two makos a day. But that doesn't mean their success hasn't touched a nerve in the conservation community.

Conservationists Speak Out

Marine biologist, author, and advocate Carl Safina told National Geographic that he still loves the excitement of fishing for makos, although he switched to catch and release around 15 years ago.

"I think we should be long past the point where killing such a creature should be talked about so breathlessly, using words like 'historic' and other hype," said Safina. "It doesn't 'make history' for the animal involved, it ends it."

Voicing similar concern, ocean advocate and author David Helvarg of Blue Frontier Campaign said, "If someone just claimed the record for shooting the largest elephant ever shot in Africa, people would be appalled. Apparently too many people haven't made that connection with endangered top predator 'game fish.'"

Helvarg added that people have fished out an estimated 90 percent of the ocean's largest fish, and there are indications that some fish species are genetically downsizing in response to that pressure. "CPR—catch, photograph, and release—might have stressed this monster of the deep, but it also would have left it to breed and feed and also left us with a sense of awe and respect knowing it was still out there," said Helvarg.

The shortfin mako is not on the endangered species list, but the species is considered "vulnerable" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). According to Kohin, not much is known about the mako's population status off California. "We don't know if it is in trouble or not," she said, adding that scientists hope to work on a survey in 2014.

The most recent federal regulation, the Pacific Council's Highly Migratory Species Fishery Management Plan, allows for a total of 150 metric tons of mako to be harvested a year by a combination of commercial and recreational interests, Kohin said. According to a 2010 report, the estimated average catch of both the commercial and recreational fisheries combined for the prior five years (2005-2009) was 53 metric tons, well below the 150-metric-ton harvest guideline, although there is uncertainty in the catch estimates, particularly the recreational numbers.

Still, Kohin said, "Removing a reproductive-age female is not a good idea. With any shark that is late to mature and produces few pups, they are much more vulnerable." She said makos don't reach maturity until ages 8 to 15 years, older than many other species in the area.

Defending his team's catch, Knowlton said, "There have been studies that say those sharks are on the increase. We never have any trouble finding sharks, some days we see eight or 10 or more, so there are a lot out there."

To Safina, killing any sharks at a time when they face intense global pressure from the fin trade and death as bycatch in commercial fisheries sends the wrong message to people, many of whom still view sharks as brainless killers. "Whether killing one very, very successful individual giant animal will harm the population isn't the whole issue," he said.

Echoing Safina's concern, Amanda Keledjian, a marine scientist with the group Oceana, said, "There might be a few old sharks out there but in general the larger body of evidence suggests that so many thousands are caught as bycatch off California every year. That's the bigger concern."

Keledjian added, "A lot of recreational fisheries are thought to have a small impact but that's not always the case, and sometimes they don't have the same accountability or don't have to report how much they catch. If it remains unknown it can be problematic for managers trying to set science-based limits."

Catch and Release?

Laleh Mohajerani, a National Geographic grantee who heads the board of Pescadores y Tiburones, a group that promotes shark conservation in Mexico's Baja California, said she was saddened to hear of the death of such a large marine animal.

"We are fishing out all the large species, so when you see an animal that is that remarkable and had such amazing survival to make it that big, you feel, why was it not released?" asked Mohajerani. "It's like if we were to discover a dinosaur and then kill it because we wanted to hunt it.

"Some people say 'they are not endangered,' 'we don't fish that many,' and all these other excuses," Mohajerani continued. "But IUCN says they are vulnerable, so we have to err on the side of caution."

Mohajerani added that many sportfishers care about the environment, and she pointed to growing interest in catch and release methods, especially when it comes to slow-reproducing fish like sharks.

For his part, Knowlton said, "We really care about these animals. We realize there is no old folks' home for sharks. That shark is going to die and no one is going to know anything about it. By going out there and taking the animal, getting it to a freezing facility, getting it to the correct people, that is getting the most out of this animal."

Knowlton added that being able to analyze the fish's brain and other parts may provide insight into mercury and other toxin accumulation. He said the same data would not have been available if the group had released it. He added that the boat's captain, Matt Potter, had tagged and released many sharks over the years, starting when he was a teenager.

Perhaps putting it more bluntly, Kent Williams, who weighed the mako, told the Los Angeles Times, "It's all part of the food chain. If they were endangered, they wouldn't allow us to fish them."

Follow Brian Clark Howard on Twitter and Google+.

61 comments
Ion Racer
Ion Racer

They killed this huge shark thats probly taken decades to reach such an enormous size just so three jackasses can say they caught the biggest one.  No one will ever remember them after a week or two so it was a complete waste of life.  This magnificent creature gave its life for nothing but a note in a book no one will read.....

Lindi Hall
Lindi Hall

Revolting, vile and abhorrent. Why can you be arrested and punished for petty crimes, but not for the torture, murder and desecration of the carcass of an incredible and innocent animal?

Gerard Weber
Gerard Weber

HS Marine teacher, marine biologist, sport-fishing captain, commercial fisherman (present to past):  always been a catch and release fisherman for last 50 years (if it was too small or had few big ones).  Release a world record white marlin 20 years ago but credit for 10:1 line ratio.  that's OK  with IGFA.  THESE guys don't have clue about sustainability or conservation of species.  They have it on film, so why kill the last big mako!  We all fish the waters and our kids won't be able to see or read about such thrills if we kill everything.  I pity them.  Just because the government didn't write a law to protect a species doesn't mean we can do what we want and get off thinking its OK until then.  Have to have some forward thinkers even it's labeled an Outdoor show.  I use to fish with Capt. Mundus (Montauk heyday of fishing paradise), and he use to kill most of the  sharks caught.  Last few years of his life, he repented & that he wished he had listen to few of us to release them.  

Kat Schramm
Kat Schramm

I was looking at this for science hw and this is SO col! I'm sure to get an A!

rebekka taylor
rebekka taylor

THIS ARTICLE UPSETS ME SO MUCH. they needlessly caught this creature and killed it. im sure it was gasping for water. they completely destroyed this animals life! how would they like it if it were the other way round? if fish were catching humans to do research and pulling them into the water and letting them drown in the name of research. leave these sea creatures alone.

M. Small
M. Small

Imagine if an "outdoors" channel aired footage of a group of "tough males" dragging a lion until it was on the burst of exhaustion, then killed it and threw it in a truck. "Struggling, slipping and sliding for two and a half hours" these guys sicken me. This needs to stop

Cary R Burke
Cary R Burke

At some point we have to & should take a stand....

Gangadharan Pulingat
Gangadharan Pulingat

It is painful to note that about 100million sharks are killed every year.  Though for human sustenance we have to depend sea food mainly fish also it must be ensured that maximum catching of such rare varieties must be stopped and controlled catching made for giving chances to the generations of humanity to come and see the fish varieties now there. 

Effy Rothe
Effy Rothe

This literally makes me sick, i honestly thought Californian's would be leading the fight against shark hunting. Please look up your local laws and sign the petition to make our harbors shark free! 

Alexandra Amaro
Alexandra Amaro

i saw the video, the one that the buttmuffins, Outdoor channel posted...sick freaks. Like strutting around with a poor animal's carass is something to be proud of. Yeah, hunting an animal, causing it pain and laughing at its defenselessness is a REAL MANLY THING TO DO!!!  I CALL BULLS***!!!. i bet if they "hunted" and harpooned a Western Pacific gray whale (less than 100 left) or any other endangered whale, they would be facing critizim of outrageous proportions. But nooooooo because it is a SHARK, people are like "good riddenance" and "one less threat for me to worry about while i swim". Someday this will come back to us, the human species, and when it does i shudder to think of how long the ripple effect will last

Ben van Koningsveld
Ben van Koningsveld

If you go to the Outdoor Channel website, there's a video promo of a "mako hunt" where they lure the shark right next to the boat then shoot an arrow into its body with a fishing line attached. It's shockingly cruel and truly disgusting and the people involved should be prosecuted or at least banned from doing this. Yes, I know that these idiots are killing a tiny fraction of sharks compared to the industrial finning slaughter but that's not the point. Killing any wild animal for no legitimate reason is just WRONG, period.

Michael Skidmore
Michael Skidmore

The sad thing obviously is that the shark was killed, in the digital age I'm sure there is some way of verifying the size. And then to show this awesome animal stuffed into a garbage bin is just sad. 

Thomas Armbruster MD
Thomas Armbruster MD

I am appalled by the record mako kill made by Jason Johnston of Mesquite, Texas in June. As a marine biologist, author and president of the SandyHook SeaLife Foundation, I have experienced firsthand the decimation of the oceans' apex predators. Present estimates suggest that fish of this size are so rare as to be commercially extinct due to over-fishing and by-catch. Moreover, I'm betting that the animal photographed was actually a pregnant female, a point conveniently overlooked in all accounts of this event. The indiscriminate slaughter of highly migratory sharks, tuna and billfish must stop now, for if this continues, our oceans will contain little more than bait fish. I can only wonder if Mr. Johnston feels any remorse for his merciless actions?

David Fiedler
David Fiedler

I see both sides of this issue.  An important point of the article is the useless bycatch of sharks in nets.  I don't know how I feel about the reality TV exploitational aspect of this particular catch, but I have no problem with sport fishing per se.  It's the wholesale and needless bycatch slaughter that puts the most pressure on all shark and other ocean species and is the concern we should be most irate over.

Karen Kutyn
Karen Kutyn

Agreed, take a picture, measure it, tag it and throw it back.  What a bunch of dumb a**es.  Real men they are......

Frank Stephenson
Frank Stephenson

The article states the shark is 8 ft. in diameter; I doubt that.  It is perhaps 8 ft. in circumference.

Chuck Yee
Chuck Yee

idiots...all in the name of science, right???  just catch it / tag it and take a friggin' picture next time.

nejjie morales
nejjie morales

Pure stupid EGO. Who cares if it is endangered or not. This type of activity is an expression of ego at the price of destroying our nature, our ecosystem, our world. Shame on humanity.

Dona G.
Dona G.

The book Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit, by Daniel Quinn, points out in an interesting and odd way that the planet and its creatures do not belong to mankind.  To kill other creatures for the bragging rights is a pathetic way to make oneself feel proud. 

michelle ramnarine
michelle ramnarine

Why don't we just catch all the animals out there and kill them. Yeah! Then we "humans" so think so highly of ourselves as not needing a balanced ecological system including all these animals will find out just how prized we are in solitude and reap the rewards of all the devastation from it. Actually why don't we just go hunting hunters and set the record for catching the fattest and oldest one out there?  Yeah that sounds like a lot of fun. 

Patrick Simons
Patrick Simons

Fantastic that they were able to catch a specimen like this and so close to a major population base!  To set the record after so many years of fishing makes you wonder how big they really can get.  And just think of all the feeder fish that killing this predator saved.  A few more of these big ones and it might even help offset the non-sustainable, mass over consumption of fish by society.

Alec Sevins
Alec Sevins

Look at all the disrespectful videos on YouTube that glorify the deaths of countless species (on land, air and water). They die on camera as a form of entertainment. Vile people make a living traveling the globe to kill different species, as if they're doing something of intrinsic value, or scratching off a bucket list. It should be illegal to kill for anything but sustenance in a moral society.

"As between the skulking and furtive poacher, who hunts for the sake of meat, and the honest gentleman shooter, who kills for the pleasure of sport, I find the former a higher type of humanity." (Edward Abbey)

Redwill Yau
Redwill Yau

As a Chinese ,I never sought out why other people enjoies a shark fin soup.Is that all because of  testing for their daring or just eat out of the ignorence of these ugly gluttons.Sharks are awesome and awesome more when they're alive in the sea as a predator rather than it is made a stupid soup.

Noelle Campbell
Noelle Campbell

Hmm, very thought provoking article. I think both sides make good points, but in this case I side with the conservationists. A large specimen like this, in its prime reproductive years should have been released back in the wild. The comment that if this were a large elephant that were shot in Africa people would be appalled is right on the money.

Fran Kirby
Fran Kirby

Nahh these guys are fine.  They're not the ones pulling tens of thousands of endangered or vulnerable marine life every day and not giving a damn - that would be the industrial fishermen, with their nets.

Tamuna Kochakidze
Tamuna Kochakidze

So they have done "Great job" killing a fish because it is supposed  to be the largest shark :(

Mayur Mehta
Mayur Mehta

Cant stand such predators,but then, we have no right to kill them.

Elaine Jobin
Elaine Jobin

I hate to think that these "gentlemen" are role models for the fishing community. ":The Professionals" - professional what???  Very sad that the planet earth lost this beautiful fish.  It would be nice if the "Outdoor Channel" could get into step with this century. I'm a Californian proud of our marine life protected areas, proud of our ocean enviornment, and I would like to see it treated with respect and responsible stewardship!!

Morten A.
Morten A.

Okay, trying to make some sense to the sceptics. 

It clearly says in the article that they are "donating it to science" and there are many things we don't know about the reproductive system of sharks and the toxin levels in the oceans. 

They are also storing it in a freezing facility, and not a dumpster, so for you concerned about the picture, that was probably on the way from the boat to the facility, and very misleading. 

The crew on the boat said also that they found many mako sharks, but was looking for one over 1000 pounds, but nothing is said about all the other sharks they caught. May be they performed catch-and-release prior to this big haul. However, there's nothing in the article confirming or denying this theory.

Unnecessary harvest of the worlds' recources is never a good idea, but putting things up for science could be useful and beneficial.

Eric Paul
Eric Paul

Humans aren't endangered...should we be allowed to hunt people too?  Drag them around with a hook for 2.5 hours and then suffocate them?  This double standard has got to STOP!

Samerle Burleigh
Samerle Burleigh

What a waste! I understand killing animals for the purpose of hunting for food or protecting yourself, but this really is disgusting. That comment of Knowlton "there is no old folks home for sharks. That shark was going to die....".  Dude that's PATHETIC! Hunting in a sportsman like manner is one thing. Killing animals for fun says to me that there's something missing in Knowltons character.

N. D
N. D

People in California should take these hunters to the court for gross animal cruelty. 

S. Marshall
S. Marshall

This is a totally unnessecary act and these 'people' should not be encouraged by being filmed. That poor creature is sadly one of many creatures being killed for pointless reasons. The shark had a long painful death that lasted two and a half hours just so these idiots can have a certificate. This is disgusting and nothing to be proud of.

Eduardo Cianelli
Eduardo Cianelli

He was so magnificent..and "they" were sooo "stoopid"! the idiots, "duh, look what we killed, duh, ain`t we suppin?, duh!"!!!???..run(and swim) all animals on the earth from idiot humans..like these brainless jerks....

Alejandro Valdez
Alejandro Valdez

This is really bad. What it means this comment "It's all part of the food chain. If they were endangered, they wouldn't allow us to fish them"???!!!. I cant belive that this kind of person really exist, it seems like a joke to me, "part of the food chain", as if you dont have enough food on your fridge...its deppresing, just for sport, What are you thinking???...go to play football men!!..there are so many sports to do that doesnt include animal lives

Denise McNichols
Denise McNichols

This shark was not "caught," it was killed.  For sport. There's nothing to admire in those anglers, nor the television program supporting them killing, and they certainly should not receive kudos for setting a record for killing unnecessarily.  What program was it? Jim Shockey's The Professionals?  And the Outdoor Chanel? - well it looks like I'll have to block them on my television and encourage others to do the same.

Javier Tibaquirá
Javier Tibaquirá

A fool's comment: "That shark is going to die and no one is going to know anything about it." Knowlton is talking about himself.

Bill Doyle
Bill Doyle

Why kill it? I could understand killing something for food but killing something just for the sport of it makes no sense to me. Its a waste of a life.

Paul Eidman
Paul Eidman

"Perhaps putting it more bluntly, Kent Williams, who weighed the mako, told the Los Angeles Times, "It's all part of the food chain. If they were endangered, they wouldn't allow us to fish them."

So now a majestic catch needs to be declared "endangered" before we respect it?

Are you kidding me?

Catch and Release anglers from all over the world know better.

Alex Solon
Alex Solon

@Noelle Campbell In all reality elephants in Africa are a remarkable story of a conservation success and in many areas they can be found in excess. Therefore elephant hunting goes on today and has for years, the meat is donated to the impoverished. Thousands of dollars goes much further than 5 or 10 donated to the world wildlife fund or any such charity. Yet, apparently, neither you nor the individual quoted in this article were very aware of this occurrence, bolstering my belief that very few people are appalled, rather speaking from a ill informed standpoint. Careful population management is alive and well in the world and large elephants are hunted legally in areas that can handle the removal of such old individuals, just like shark fishing or any other activity. It is monitored by BIOLOGISTS, those who study the environment, I trust them, not people who comment on the internet, and if they say that killing up to two sharks who have reached a determined age is not harmful to the ecosystem then I am inclined to trust their word. Its what any taxpayer pays them to do, study the sharks and tell us if it is okay to harvest them, and apparently it is.

Alec Sevins
Alec Sevins

@Fran Kirby Don't kid yourself that they somehow respect marine life more than trawler fishermen. It's usually the same general mentality of Man owning nature and playing with it for entertainment.

I find powerboat bass fishing to be especially crass, even if it's catch & release. Nature should not be a backdrop for human partying. Ours is a superficial, greedy species that doesn't need defending.

Alec Sevins
Alec Sevins

@Elaine Jobin Good points. The words "outdoor" and "outdoorsman" shouldn't be associated with recreational killing. The word "harvest" as a euphemism for trophy killing also needs to go.

"Wildlife serial killers" is a more accurate term for the Nugents and McNeely's of the world. That's exactly what they are; killing far out of proportion to any real need, and masking it with cover stories about pseudo-conservation. They are all about ego.

Alex Solon
Alex Solon

@Eric Paul I agree, I plan to go human fishing this very evening, I have cheeseburgers and 200lb line, you're welcome to join me if you would like, sounds fun, ttyl amigo.

Joe Champagne
Joe Champagne

@Michael Laudij Wouldn't a better term for that measurement be 'span' rather than diameter? I think diameter implies a measure across its roughly cylindrical body rather than fin-to-fin.

Lindsay Del Vecchio
Lindsay Del Vecchio

Humans are over-populated!  Can we kill them to feed the hungry??  Be careful!  Your ignorant ego mania is showing!

Brian Howard
Brian Howard expert

@Alex Solon @Noelle Campbell Interestingly, I just got an email that said this: "A new report released today analyzes literature on the economics of trophy hunting and reveals that African countries and rural communities derive very little benefit from trophy hunting revenue. The study, authored by Economists at Large, comes amid consideration to grant the African lion protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA)."

 

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