National Geographic News
A man grabs a shark.

Elliot Sudal grabs a sandbar shark on a Nantucket beach.

Photograph courtesy Elliot Sudal

Brian Clark Howard

National Geographic

Published July 17, 2013

When Elliot Sudal goes to the beach, he doesn't just lay out in the sun. He wrestles sharks.

On July 14, Sudal spent 45 minutes writhing in the Nantucket surf with a seven-foot (two-meter) sandbar shark. Eventually, he got the animal to shore, then released it a few moments later. The encounter was recorded by his companions and posted online, where it has gone viral. A number of shark advocates have expressed concern about potential injury to the animal.

"I pull them on shore, I photograph them, and then I let them go, I'm pretty conservation minded, I'm not trying to eat them or hurt them," Sudal told National Geographic.

The 24-year-old is originally from Burlington, Connecticut, but he recently moved to Massachusetts' Nantucket Island. Before that, he lived in Florida, where he was also an avid surf fisherman.

Sudal said he has caught-and-released a hundred sharks over the past eight months, the majority of them in Florida. "They have a lot more sharks down there than in Nantucket," he said.

"It's my favorite thing to do," Sudal added. "I've been fishing my whole life. It's almost like a drug, it seems like I can't go more than a few days without fishing.

"The bigger the fish the better. It's a big epic battle—after catching a big shark you can't really go back to catching five-pound fish."

(See "Record-Breaking Mako Shark Tips Off Conservation Debate.")

"Epic Battle"

On Sunday, Sudal had set out four fishing lines from the beach. He noticed some dead bluefish floating in the waves with shark bites on them, so he grabbed one and tossed half of it back out toward his hooks. A sandbar shark emerged, and then took one of the hooks.

Sudal called the catch "an amazing experience." He said it feels like he develops a relationship with the animal when he spends so much time trying to wrestle it to shore.

Asked what compels him to plunge into the surf to literally pluck writhing animals from the sea, Sudal said, "After hooking a shark, I realized I gotta go grab this now, so you just hope for the best. The shark is freaking out."

Sudal said that the most intense moment is when he first feels the sandpaper-like roughness of the shark's skin. "With the splashing, a lot of times you can barely see, so if something bad were going to happen, it would happen then," he said of the first few moments.

Asked if he is ever scared of getting bitten, Sudal admitted he is terrified. "They can cut a fish in half no problem, so think what they could do to a leg," he said. "But knock on wood, I haven't had any problems yet."

He added that there are only around 70 shark attacks reported a year worldwide. Sudal said the largest fish he has ever hauled in was a ten-foot (three-meter) bull shark that he caught in Florida. (See "How Should We Respond When Humans and Sharks Collide?")

Sudal has a captain's license and works for a company called Nantucket Moorings. He helps guide boats to the dock, including multimillion-dollar yachts of the rich and famous, who come to relax in Nantucket.

"Pretty much every day I go to work, go to the gym, and go fishing," said Sudal, describing a routine that may be the new "GTL"—gym, tan, laundry—phrase for a generation raised on Jersey Shore.

Shark Advocates Express Concerns

Bradley M. Wetherbee, who studies shark behavior and ecology at the University of Rhode Island, told National Geographic that the shark in the video is a sandbar shark. "It's a species that cannot be retained, so at least he let it go," said Wetherbee.

"Not the ideal treatment for a shark, but he got a lot of attention and that was probably the whole point."

Wetherbee added, "One could certainly let the shark go in a less dramatic fashion, but in the end the shark is hopefully out there swimming around rather than dead and cut up."

Wetherbee said shore fishing for sharks is common along the East Coast, where protected species like sandbar and sand tiger sharks get caught, photographed, and then released, which is not against the law. (Killing them is prohibited.)

Wetherbee said his research group is conducting a study on the fate of sand tiger sharks caught and released in Delaware.

Expressing concern about the video, marine scientist Amanda Keledjian with the environmental group Oceana said such catch-and-release tactics could still injure sharks. "Sharks have very sensitive bodies, with some even having to keep water moving over their gills to breathe," she said.

"Sharks can also easily have their internal organs bruised or damaged, which wouldn't be apparent after immediately being released," Keledjian said. She added that stress from the encounter could result in lower reproductive output.

Author and ocean advocate Carl Safina told National Geographic that sandbar sharks used to be commonly seen in the summer in shallow waters around the Northeast, although their numbers dropped in recent decades thanks to commercial fishing.

For his part, Sudal says he has been talking to everyone who will listen about the importance of shark conservation.

"I am getting backlash, but the Chinese kill a hundred million sharks a year for their fins," he said.

"And I let this one go, and I didn't do anything illegal."

What do you think—is catch-and-release fishing of sharks a good way to enjoy nature?

 

67 comments
Michael Gans
Michael Gans

For all of you who want the sharks to be left alone have you considered that when a shark this size is pulled on the beach and released a lot of people who had been in the water are now out leaving the shark alone. I fish for sharks and when caught they are tagged and released so they can be tracked if ever re-caught, I drag them up on the beach to measure, ID and tag but since I am doing it for science it is OK right, that is what the expert posters do. I only tag them because I like catching them, maybe I can help there be more sharks so I can catch more sharks. Same reason I deer hunt and spend money providing food plots of health food for the deer, I will take six every year but I help hundreds survive healthier than before. Until you get off your butt's, spend your money and time to do something keep your mouth shut. Happy Fishing Elliot!!

Robert Spreitzer
Robert Spreitzer

Must he satisfy his ego by dragging a shark to shore? It's not "illegal" but if the shark drags him in the water in this tussle, then some folks would want the shark killed. Appreciate the shark without doing this.

Peace Seeker
Peace Seeker

“Of Sharks and Man” shows the complete story of humans and sharks, with all the fear, bloodshed and reverence it embodies. We examine the relationship between sharks and men - what it is now, how it used to be, and why it came to be this way. We explain what sharks really mean to us - and what we really mean to them. From shark fin soup to habitat destruction, we show what humans are doing to drive sharks into extinction. And we show the profound impact that their extinction would have on us. We travel the world to find the most interesting, most bizarre and most intriguing stories of human-shark interactions. We show cutting-edge shark science and talk to psychologists, we hear from the victims of shark attacks how their experiences have changed their lives, and explore the myths and misconceptions the media has spread about sharks.

 [ www.cultureunplugged.com/documentary/watch-online/play/5988 ]

Soumya Gade
Soumya Gade

I mean it's good that he's at least letting the sharks go, but I still feel bad for them! I mean at the very least it must be annoying for them to be suddenly pulled out of the water and forcefully dragged to shore - it's like if someone pulled you out of your house! 

Hector Pashell
Hector Pashell

I personally think was a mistake, shark was sufferin he believe is funny no sir is not, next time think before do something like this...if you can think.

Silvia Moreno
Silvia Moreno

I think he's doing what he likes without injured anyone and he is right about others countries, there are thousands of people who eat, kill and sell sharks for their own profit, what he is doing is an extremely unusual way of fishing if the photo wasn't post online, nobody would have notice of it, there are differents ways of fishing and this is one of them. 

Ahmed Fouad
Ahmed Fouad

يا له من رجل شجاع وقوى البنيه وله قلب مثل قلب الاسد 

Jessica Luong
Jessica Luong

Wow, this guy doesn't really listen. He's getting a ton of notoriety over this but the exposure is feeding his ego regardless hahaah. He wants to turn his 15 minutes of "fame" into a TV show--almost as pathetic as the folks who tried to cash in on their family vacation youtube video "The Battle At Kruger." (http://battleatkruger.com/)

Anne Baskakova
Anne Baskakova

The poor thing!  What is it with humans, all we want to do is destroy, damage. God forbid there is a beautiful wild creature living it's life...we HAVE to participate & invade. Now, how many kids just got the same idea? How many of those will report with injuries in the next year?

Whether the shark is killed or not, this is unacceptable! Humans need to give space to wild animals, and not intervene with the natural cycle. 

Hands off the sharks!

Amy Parnell
Amy Parnell

If you think that is something you should go visit my father.  He is in his mid 70's and does this all the time.  He has an entire photo album with all the sharks he has caught.  It is interesting for a young guy, but amazing for an older man. 

Alfred Munsell
Alfred Munsell

Why even ask the a holier-than-thou establishment "expert" an opinion? Their response always includes a pedantic lecture and a predictable scolding. Common species of sharks are a lot like rats; they can stand to be thinned out occasionally.

Alfred Munsell
Alfred Munsell

Why even ask the a holier-than-thou establishment "expert" an opinion? Their response always includes a pedantic lecture and a predictable scolding. Common species of sharks are a lot like rats; they can stand to be thinned out occasionally.

Richard Turgeon
Richard Turgeon

This should not be celebrated by National Geographic or anyone else. This is stressful and harmful to the shark. Sharks have enough problems from humans hunting them. Shark finning and shark fin soup are driving them to extinction. Please don't glorify this sort of thing. Respect and appreciate these animals in their natural environment. You'll see how beautiful and majestic they are, instead of fighting to breathe because this guy wants a thrill and to show off.

Richard Turgeon
Richard Turgeon

This should not be celebrated by National Geographic or anyone else. This is stressful and harmful to the shark. Sharks have enough problems from humans hunting them. Shark finning and shark fin soup are driving them to extinction. Please don't glorify this sort of thing. Respect and appreciate these animals in their natural environment. You'll see how beautiful and majestic they are, instead of fighting to breathe because this guy wants a thrill and to show off.

C. Dufour
C. Dufour

The only problem I see with this is that someone watching may want to try it for themselves and end up seriously injuring themselves of the shark.

Cas Renooij
Cas Renooij

It may not be illegal, but to think of it as ethical ? Apart from you own ego boosting pleasure, what's the point ? If you want to look at sharks, go dive.


A. RanaDeen
A. RanaDeen

I'm sure you all will agree there are better ways of enjoying and exploring nature. After all it is all in the mind!

Dan Beam
Dan Beam

Thank you, Jessica.  The comments were getting pretty ridiculous here.

Wrestling the shark from the surf may present a slightly increased risk of internal injury from blunt trauma, but I frankly don't see this being much different than 'normal' catch and release sport-fishing.  The shark is already going to be extremely stressed from a 45-60 minute fight on a fishing line--and it would otherwise be subjected to potential physical injury from being dragged onto a boat, dock, or the shore for pictures.

If anything, I think the shark's odds of not being removed from the water for pictures are better when this man commits to getting in the water to finish the fight with his hands.  I understand some people may not like or agree with the activity, but that's about where it should end.

The hypocrites posting all over this article think their sushi grows on a tree; and that the massive oil spill they heard about on their XM radio in their SUV was a boat captain's fault--as they pull up to Starbucks for their third grande latte of the day, whilst taking the opportunity to throw out all the empty cups and plastic bottles from their vehicle in the garbage can just past the drive-thru window.  Don't worry Mr. and Mrs. Smith, the micro scrubbing beads in your exfoliating body and face washes are made of tiny plastic pieces that are too small to be caught by water filtration systems, but you don't throw plastic bags in lakes--and you certainly don't wrestle sharks--so you're all good...

  


Andrew Booth
Andrew Booth

Exactly Gale! Perhaps this chap thinks he's not hurting the shark - but what about the shock or stress he's causing it? How do we know that the shark didn't die from the stress shortly afterwards? 

Besides, why would Mr Sudal want to do this anyway? If this isn't a macho-fuelled adrenaline buzz then what is? The saddest thing is that if Mr Sudal suddenly loses a hand or leg one day then we'll hear how dangerous these sharks are just off the beaches and how they have to be eradicated - "for safety".  

 Why can't we just leave other creatures alone? 

Gale Kooser
Gale Kooser

When I first saw this news report, I was horrified!  That shark was under so much stress and that guy was just out for a thrill.

Catch & release is not good for sharks in any form- Shark fishing should NOT be allowed at all. It's NOT a good way to enjoy nature either! Sudal can say what he wishes but he just was in it for the thrill & 5 minutes of TV fame.

Luke White
Luke White

The world is dog eat dog, if a carnivore kills...it can be killed. That shark probably did a lot worse then "wrestle" with its prey.

Luke White
Luke White

If sharks were peaceful creatures that should be coddled like children then they wouldn't be predators. No sharks were killed, maybe the man-handling will teach the shark some empathy when its tearing a family of other LIVING THINGS to shreds. These fish are warriors not children, at least they're learning to fear humans instead of feeding on them. There's no difference between fishing for sharks and fishing for non-predatory fish. Hunt the carnivorous fish and leave the peaceful fish if its a matter of morals.

M G
M G

Why does he have to pull them ashore to photograph them? Why doesn't he just go down there to their turf and photograph them? This is the reason we have SHARKNADOS. Enough Said!

Robin Hood
Robin Hood

He won't be that proud if the roles reverse and he is the shark and somebody pulls him out for a play with a hook in his mouth...

But in all seriousness, protected species should be just that, and better than anything there should be a law not allowing people on a certain distance to their habitat and all that. Then undocumented stories can't go off the line with what actually happened when there is an "unwanted" encounter. Same with fishing for fun all things I can't really understand, but I am sure there will be people out there fighting each other to prove me wrong about that one.

If he was the man and wanted a relationship with sharks then he better be off putting down some Chinese pirate boats out there instead of playing muscle with those proud animals.

Thx but next time go do something valuable big guy! For example go and wrestle one of your kind instead of bothering animals with your self-worshiping friends. 

Abbas Roble
Abbas Roble

Sometimes it sickens me to be human.. We are so cruel and obnoxious, oblivious to anything but what pleases us. 

Abbas Roble
Abbas Roble

Some idiot does something idiotic, then some more idiots defend him. For all the idiots out there, whether or not the guy can wrestle sharks is not the point. Whether or not we can do it is not the point. The point is, the shark is already pained from having a big hook perforating its mouth (you can see the line on the picture).. Then the shark has to deal with what is nothing less than an attack, wrestled, bruised, dragged out of the water, suffocated.. Question is, what did the shark ever do to deserve it? 

And he released the shark back.. So nice of him. The shark community had better send him a thank you card. Nutjob..

Cat Neal
Cat Neal

And anyway, yes the shark population is grossly exploited, why does this imbecile want to exploit them more? Omg... speechless.

Cat Neal
Cat Neal

What an a******!!! Get a life jerkwad!!

Venk Tatineni
Venk Tatineni

Thats it...a little more to the left and you have total access to his nads

Jessica Chavarria
Jessica Chavarria

PLEASE READ THE FOLLOWING CAREFULLY:

Hi, PETA member here, believe me there are people worse than that. But most of you are hypocrites.

If you truly are concerned about the sharks, stop polluting the ocean with your presence at the beach. Stop coming and disturbing their homes, stop eating anything related to the sea because you are interfering with their food chains, stop using water because the water comes from "fresh" springs, rivers, and lakes that provide water for the sea. Fun Fact: ALL water is connected even those that appear isolated. So are you willing to commit?

Hmm... doesn't seem like your so concerned now.. Then stop talking about this fellow and go get a life before it runs away from you, hypocrite.

Thank God he only wrestles. Most fishermen dry them out or cut them up while still breathing. Pretty sure there are youtube videos showing this.

John C. stop talking about what a "boob" he is. Go wrestle a shark and let me know how it went.

Thomas Mc... great white sharks.. they are just more famous because of hollywood. Bull sharks are a lot more dangerous and aggressive. They can even swim in rivers and lakes. They also have a really good electroreception. Bull sharks are often confused with great white sharks.. they look so similar.

Brian Howard, so true... :/

Robert Spreitzer
Robert Spreitzer

@Alfred Munsell I don't think it's a "holier-than-thou" issue to criticize this action by the man dragging a shark on shore. Perhaps it is alright for people to be "thinned out occasionally" as well?

Tharun V.
Tharun V.

@Alfred Munsell Of course a "holier than thou", as you put it, expert would express their concerns, they're biologists and conservationists which you are not and wouldn't expect people like you to understand. With the problem of sharkfinning conservationists don't want another potential problem to sharks; it's not like they were totally antagonizing this dude anyways, they took into account of why he was doing what he was and talked about POTENTIAL risks. Obviously you're too single-minded to understand both sides, and the comparison you made between rats and sharks really has very little substance to it.

Dan Beam
Dan Beam

@A. RanaDeen You are very correct.  I don't want to be misinterpreted as saying that I think shark wrestling is OK; only that it's not as offensive as it first seems, *all* things considered.

Holly Thompson
Holly Thompson

@Dan Beam Your totally right, it's no different from any other form of 'catch and release' fishing, which is why I strongly disagree with the entire sport.

Fishing for food, fine, but putting a creature under severe stress and pain and quite possibly fatal injury just for sport is frankly outdated and ridiculous. People are reacting more because it is a shark not a little 'mindless' fish but your right, there is no difference and it should be stopped. 

Andrew Booth
Andrew Booth

@Luke White You cannot be serious Luke! 

Almost all fish that are caught are caught for food. 'Sport' fishing is a separate issue but this clown is quite something else. To stress or injure another creature simply for pleasure and amusement is purely a human trait. Sharks don't do that, nor do other predators (except killers whales). 

Mr Sudal is obviously enjoying himself tormenting this shark on this adrenaline buzz of his. It seems you think that's acceptable, as is the human preserve of tormenting other creatures for fun. If so, there's very little hope Luke.

Adam Waller
Adam Waller

@Luke White

This has got to be one of the most idiotic comments I've ever seen. Congratulations Sir...

John C.
John C.

There's a drunk giggling girl involved you can be sure.

John C.
John C.

Go wrestle a shark? Does mommy know you're playing on her computer?

Dan Beam
Dan Beam

@Holly Thompson

How do you reconcile this logic with the fact that man's whole existence can only come at the expense of the Earth and its inhabitants--and his pleasure and leisure can only come from an additional and otherwise unnecessary expense?

Forgetting about the many more critical animal and environmental issues like sport fighting and hunting, whaling, poaching, oil spills, etc--think about the natural resources consumed by simple human pleasures, such as sport and leisure activities.

Nature has lost hundreds of thousands of acres to fields, parks, stadiums, country clubs, gyms, marine recreation areas, and all other places where man engages in sport and leisure.  All of these sports and activities involve the use of objects (from basic sports equipment to boats, etc.) made from natural resources which must be mined, processed, refined, and transported several times.  Additional natural resources are consumed when undertaking the leisure activity (from occupying a habitat to consuming fuels, etc.).

Reading for pleasure needlessly destroys habitats by killing trees which are transported to pollutant causing mills to be refined, so the paper can be shipped to a big factory where books are printed and then transported to a large retail outlet with an inviting parking lot.

And the people who do their reading on a laptop or a tablet?  Chances are much of the device they are using is manufactured in the most polluted industrial zone in the world, where the factory workers are treated worse than a shark at a wrestling match.

How much do you drive? Recycle? How much air, heat, and electricity do you use? How big is your house? Your car?  And I don't just mean "you".

The point is that man's overall carbon footprint is what matters, because everything we have and do is taken from the Earth.  Everything must be considered when we choose our battles. 

Fishing is regulated via license and fee by each state's Department of Natural Resources.  The money collected is used to replenish the resources used, which includes stocking and monitoring fish populations.  Fishing, boating, camping, and the related activities attract people to rural areas and help keep the economy going--something else needed for humans to reasonably exist.

Anyway, as long as man can eat fish, there will be incidental catches (protected species or size) which must be released.  This happens quite a bit when fishing for many edible species--and it means that even if a catch and release ban could somehow be enforced, it would only serve to reduce the number of fish caught and released.

There must be 100 different small things that, if done by even just a small portion of the population (e.g., reducing bottled water consumption), would be more beneficial for marine life than a sport fishing ban.

Robert Spreitzer
Robert Spreitzer

@Amber Vallilee will not be thinned out. She is a valued member of humanity. Just ask her--she will gladly tell you all about it. And further, she knows perhaps WHO should be thinned out.

Anne Baskakova
Anne Baskakova

@Dan Beam 

Interesting logic you have. Although I absolutely agree with your idea  of overall consciousness about sustainability, and 100 different small things that could be beneficial to environment, I don't understand how do you not put "shark wrestling ban"  as a 101 st thing on that list?

Why is it better to stop at the level of recycling and smart energy use? Why not take another step forward and actually stop any form of abuse of the wild creatures, that, as you yourself mentioned, had been a resource for us for many many years? 

This is not a survivor mode, we don't need to wrestle sharks or any other animal to live. There is plenty of other entertainment that is around. And you can tell me all about "reading for pleasure negative impact",there are "used book" stores to help with that. Besides, human's don't' pick up the book wt the idea to "ruin more trees".  Wrestling a shark, you have got to understand the level of stress and damage you are going to put a smart living creature  through. It's apple and oranges, and could not be compared. 

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