Giant great white ate its cousin during Sandbridge research expedition

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June 12th, 2018, 11:59 am #1

Giant great white ate its cousin during Sandbridge research expedition
by Lee Tolliver at The Virginian - Pilot | June 11, 2018

Great white sharks, it appears, are quite the cannibals.

When a Virginia Institute of Marine Science longline fishing survey caught a black tip shark on Friday, a much larger great white shark couldn't turn down an easy meal.

Researchers just three and a half miles off Sandbridge were reeling in their 1.2-mile longline, equipped with 100 baited hooks, last week when a 12- to 13-foot great white showed up to see what all the fuss was about.

It wrapped its jaws around a 4-foot black tip on the line, tearing into it with a huge set of razor-sharp, serrated teeth as the crew scrambled to save the other 40 sharks they had hooked.

Great whites have been caught in that area multiple times over the years by recreational and commercial fishermen. But even the shark researchers were surprised by the bigger one, and another one about eight and a half feet caught on a different survey.

"We weren't expecting that one," said researcher Kaitlyn O'Brien, who shot pictures. "It made a real mess of our lines." With a full stomach, the shark swam away.

VIMS began studying sharks in the mid-Atlantic in 1973 with its Shark Survey. It's one of the longest running studies of shark populations in the world. The survey has shown a serious decline in shark numbers because of overfishing. That discovery led to the first shark management plan by NOAA Fisheries in 1993.

Since then, shark populations have steadily rebounded in coastal waters of the United States.

VIMS performs longline surveys at eight stations along the coast and mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.

"We have to stick with those stations for consistency over time," said Robert Latour, professor of marine science with VIMS. "But we're hoping to expand."

Institute spokesman Dave Malmquist said people would be surprised by the number of species and population of sharks that make our waters home from time to time.

Big sandbar sharks that come into the bay to give birth to pups are the most numerous on a list that includes dusky, sand tigers, spinners, tigers, bulls, smoothtips, blacktips and dogfish.

"Fishermen probably are" aware, Malmquist said. "But I don't think many others would have any idea."

Recreational anglers fishing the Gulf Stream already are complaining that their tuna catches are being destroyed by opportunistic sharks who attack the fish as they are being reeled in. And several captains have made a cottage industry for tourists who want to catch sharks within sight of the Virginia Beach Oceanfront.

Almost all the sharks captured in VIMS surveys are tagged and released.

Except when they're eaten by one of their relatives.

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