I caught a 200 pound LEMON SHARK!
Oh yes I did… and I reeled her in from about 500 yards from the beach.
I may have reeled it in but…. Okay, to be fair… my friend Elliot Sudal- aka – “The Shark Wrestler” did everything else.
Now don’t think because Elliot’s been named “The Shark Wrestler” and “The Shark Wrangler” by national press like National Geographic, CNN, Fox News and ABC News that catching this beast is “mean” or dangerous for the SHARK. He’s a SHARK conservationist.
Elliot is part of a research team that tags SHARKS for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Since 1962, National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Cooperative Shark Tagging Program (CSTP) has been a tagging study for shark and ray species in the Gulf of Mexico and western Atlantic Ocean to better understand their movement patterns, abundance, when/where they use coastal habitats, what distances they migrate and where they migrate to. Once he catches a SHARK, he tags, measures and records valuable information for NOAA’s scientific research then releases the SHARK back into the water all within just a few minutes.
Tagging SHARKS is an excellent way to study their habits to help ensure balance in the ocean’s ecosystem… so why not have fun doing it! Check out this Fox Connecticut video interview with Elliot having fun catching and tagging SHARKS … CLICK HERE
So what’s this got to do with shelling? Well, he might look a little familiar since he is one of the captains on our Captiva Cruises shelling trips to Cayo Costa- remember the Shellphone guy (CLICK HERE)? Yes, he’s a sheller too and laughs every time he finds a nice shell like the BANDED TULIP in his cast net.
Clark and I were shelling at Blind Pass Sanibel one evening and ran into Elliot setting up his reels for a night of SHARK fishing. Before I even got to reel in that awesome LEMON SHARK, Elliot had already done a lot of work to get the bait in place.
He wrangles bait fish like this SHEEPSHEAD by cast net.
He also throws a few smaller rods out to catch fish like this LADYFISH to put on a circle hook (the preferred hook for marine conservation) with gobs of heavy duty line…
Then he paddled his kayak out to the deeper water around 500 yards out while friend CJ Floyd watches the line.
So don’t worry! This line with the bait is nowhere near where we are shelling in the water. He paddles it waaaay out.
I’ve gotta tell ya, this is one of the most amazing things Ive ever experienced. Finding a JUNONIA is truly a spectacsheller moment but feeling the exhilaration of Mother Nature’s most incredible creatures tugging on the other end of this fishing pole was FINtastic! I caught a SPINNER SHARK too but that one got away. Just after Clark snapped this photo, that fella shook the hook.
But that’s ok because the next bite was my 7 foot LEMON SHARK. Can you believe it? And yes, in person you can see that there is a yellow tinge to her… hence the name “Lemon”. (Thats for you, Rachel… heehee xo)
Elliot tagged her…
Along with CJ, they measured and recorded her…
Then Elliot safely released her back into the water.
I got to fill out all of the valuable information to send off to NOAA … and I got to name her! Her new name?
Hahaha … and of course I had to see what she would look like with some JUNONIA spots on her- LOL
Okay y’all… I don’t want you to freak out about SHARKS being in the areas where we are looking for shells. First of all, most SHARKS Elliot catches are at dusk or later at night so most of us aren’t shelling off shore at those times. Secondly, the odds of you getting eaten by a SHARK are slim to none (and “Slim” just left town- as Clark would say). SHARKS are very smart creatures and humans aren’t what SHARKS want for dinner.
SHARKS have gotten such a bad reputation since the movie Jaws so I know that some people have a deep fear and/or concern for SHARKS so let me answer some of the questions you may have.
Yes- SHARKS live in the waters of Southwest Florida. We love to see all types of Sealife in the Gulf Of Mexico and we shouldn’t feel like it’s taboo to talk about SHARKS being there too. They are an important part of our healthy environment that we need to respect and protect.
Yes- It is safe to swim in the Gulf Of Mexico. Honestly, I was a little afraid to write this post because I didn’t want people afraid of the water. If you know the truth about SHARKS then you will respect them more without being afraid of the “unknowing”. Knowledge is power. So if you look at the statistics of only 9 SHARK fatalities in Florida from 1959-2010, hopefully you will still respect SHARKS but will understand the safe odds you have with SHARKS when you go for a dip in the water in Florida. As George Burgess, curator of the world shark attack data housed at UF’s Florida Museum of Natural History says “beachgoers are far more likely to win the lottery than to (unintentionally) encounter a shark”. For more statistics – check out Florida Museum Of Natural History
And here are a few fun facts about SHARKS to sink your teeth into…
- Sharks have cruised the ocean for 400 million years.
- Sharks were on the planet 100 millions years before dinosaurs.
- Lemon sharks can lose a whole set of teeth, one by one, every 10 days.
- Lemon sharks like Jawnonia can give birth up to 17 pups in one litter.
- There are more than 450 species of sharks throughout the ocean
So now if you are on the beach looking for shells and you come across fishermen with kayaks and lots of poles, you can feel better about ducking around their fishing lines if they are out there tagging sharks for research conservation. Especially if you run in to Elliot- because he knows better than plopping his gear down right in the middle of the only big shell pile in miles (oh yes, I’ve seen that happen more than once with other fishermen- grrrrr). We all have our reasons we want to spend time on the beach so it’s fun for all of us to learn something new about the other creatures in the sea.
Thank you Elliot for teaching me so much about SHARKS and for letting me be part of such an amazing experience! You can follow Elliot @acksharks on Instagram or ElliotSudal on Facebook to see what SHARK adventures he is up to as he “Shark Wrestles” each winter on Sanibel and summers on Nantucket. And a special thanks to Rachel Fields for being so much fun and hanging out with us and taking photos of “my catch”. I’m usually the one behind the camera so thank you so much for sending those great photos to me!
OH WAIT! And…. Elliot is going to be on Nat Geo! He is starring in an upcoming television episode of a new reality show called The Raft airing every Sunday at 10pm eastern time (9pm central) from April 5 to May 3, 2015.
UPDATE: Elliot’s episode was awesome! It aired May 10 … and spoiler alert… he made it to land! This link won’t probably be live very long but you can see a preview here… http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/the-raft/videos/drifters-cant-be-choosers/
Wow! That’s amazing! I love learning about sharks !
Wow, she’s gorgeous! Here are a few things that are statistically way more likely to kill you than a shark: deer, chairs, toasters, and (wait for it) falling vending machines. I’m so glad people like you are on the sharks’ side – our ecosystem needs its apex predators!
Thank you Jamie- I had a whole statistics paragraph I was gonna post but decided it was “over-kill” (heehee) so Im glad you already know just how rare it is…. and about the importance of apex predators!
Wow that is incrediable – I love Sharks they are so fascinating, that must have been fun reeling him in. I always use Captiva Crusies for shelling trips
Hey just saying finding a SHELLIOT on the beach might be up there with a junonia!!!! He he he……
You are right, Judy- finding a Shelliot is way more rare. Shelling for Shelliot! heehee
Elliot is such a cool guy; I met him on the beach near Blue Dolphin last December.
And most of us have been in the water with a small shark before and not even realized it.
So true Susan!
Wow, I wouldn’t mind wrestling the shark wrestler!! :)
my thoughts exatly!!
Oh, man! Me too! (Hubba hubba)
Great info on sharks to add to my brain cells. I can’t say sharks are of much interest to me. However, if I were a lot younger and saw Elliot fishing on the beach, my interest in sharks would skyrocket. It was hard to concentrate on the fish with him in the picture! Hee hee.
What an amazing, interesting post! How long did it take to reel in that lemon shark? That picture of Elliott kayaking out toward the sunset is spectacular-you ought to make it one of your photo art pictures at Sealife Congress. Can’t wait to check your photos out-hubby and I are coming in May for our 20th Anniversary. Yea!-so excited.
Shelling Sister Susan-Panama City, FL
Great info! Great pictures!! What a great day that must of been for you!
Looks like you had an amazing time! Something I would love to do. I love sharks! Great pictures, especially of Elliott – what body – WOW!!!! I’ve never seen that Fox video. Looks like he enjoys an exciting life and seems like a fun guy to hang with.
What a great and informative article on your shark capture and release. I have spend many wonderful times on Sanibel and Captiva in all seasons. Since moving permanently to Florida two months ago, I hope to work on some coastal/ocean restoration projects…while finding (non) living seashells as an avid conchologist …for the past 40 years. My doctoral dissertation was on “Sharing the Living Resources of the Sea:…”.
All the Best,
Forest W. Redding, Jr., Ph.D.
A very informative and exciting article to read on your shark capture and release with Elliott as an expert marine biologist.
I must add, you sure seem to lead an exiting life too Pam.
What an incredible adventure, Pam! I’m so glad you met up with him and had that wonderful experience. I’ve had many dives with sharks, and love them! Thank you so much for sharing your photos and details with us. I’m landlocked, but I check your site and the webcams daily for my “sea fix”. :)
Pam can I ask you to tell me again the name of the photo app that you use for editing your photos?
Our Photoshop license just ran out and I need something fast and easy (and hopefully free!) for the Mac, so I can make and fix up a couple of photos for a new shell paper that I am hastily trying to finish.
It’s OK Pam, I got my Photoshop working again!
very cool and informative! Whoever took the photos (you?) got some really great photos!!
Thanks tracie! I took all of the photos other than the ones with me in them. Rachel took the shots of me reeling in Jawnonia and Clark took the third pic down. It takes a shell village.
This is one of your better posts, Pam!! Love it! But I must say at first I was really disappointed that you were catching sharks until I read further and discovered you were helping to tag them! As far as your reluctance to post this, I have to say one thing. This is the sharks home, not ours! We are invited in to experience the joy and fun but we must respect the fact that we are always a guest.
Surfers call the shark “the landlord”!
I love that name!
Jawnonia! hahahaha! Great post – loved learning about the sharks. But, my daughter is still afraid to go more than about 6 inches out into the water! Silly girl!
LOVE that YOU, as the shark ANGLER, got to fill out the NOAA RESEARCH FORM!!
Bet you were tempted to write the FISH CONDITION as “Exshellent!” :)
VERY interesting. Thanks, Pam!
Congrats on your big catch! Had no idea shark-tagging happens on Sanibel. Is it common? Very interesting story and beautiful photos. You are one brave lady!
Thanks for the heads-up on “The Raft” reality show.
I’m betting this will be the best report of 2015. it would be hard to top this, but you are one incredible lady, so anything is possible! :)
Sharks are amazing. Glad you had such a wonderful experience. I love to watch them swim through the cuts in the evening.
Sharks are not a problem in the Gulf, especially for shell collectors in shallow water. Stingrays, on the other hand, could be a problem since they hang out in shallow water, often right in the surf wash, especially during the summer months. There are signs at Little Hickory Beach in Bonita Springs warning about sting rays. Your experiences with these creatures while shell collecting would be greatly appreciated.
I agree that stingrays are a much greater risk for shell collectors in shallow water. When we lived in the Marshall Islands, we were taught to always wear shoes or booties in the water, and to shuffle our feet whenever we moved. This would scare off the rays and the stonefish we had there. Fortunately I don’t think Florida has stonefish. At least, I hope not!
Hi Phil! Yes, I have seen countless stingrays and skates swim right by me in the water and they love to follow Clark when he is “raking” in the water to stir up the shells. They are looking for shells too… but with mollusks still in them for their meal. The visitors centers and hotels have postings for folks to do “The Stingray Shuffle” when walking in the water so that one doesn’t step on them. I have only heard of one woman who got stung and had to go to the hospital- i guess she unintentionally stepped on it. She’s fine now but it shook her up. I have many photos here on the blog but my favorite video with Cownose Rays is … https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LcpARgVsmxA
That is a wonderful video of the Cownose Rays. We have seen them come into the beach just like that, but did not know that stingrays were technically called Cownose Rays. We just returned from a great vacation in Bonita Springs. Enjoyed some unexpectedly good shelling on the south end of Lovers Key at low tide. Also on the south end of Barefoot Beach at low tide. Both locations very much like Blind Pass, inlets with tidal currents, and lots of nice shells in the water and on the beach. Planning to come back to Sanibel in November (at low tide). Until then, we will enjoy your beautiful web site every day and dream about our next vacation to SW Florida.
Wow, what an awesome experience…catching the lemon shark and meeting Elliott. Thank you for sharing Pam!
Your shell-isms are SHELLarious! And the sunset pictures are breathtaking. Looking forward to meeting you and your crew when we visit in July. Shelling is our love but I would love to catch a JAWNONIA!
When you posted in the past month or so about wanting to go fishing again, this is definitely not what I pictured!! It looks like an absolutely amazing experience, woohoo! Will be keeping an eye out for Jawnonia the next time we’re down…
super catch but of course the head sheller had to make it a jawnonia that’s being the top dog even fishing great job pam nice trophy catch r.g.stein
What a fascinating post! So glad you got to have that experience, Pam, & thank you for including us. Your experiences are fun and informative. I have a mini vacation every time I view your blog. Thank you so much for sharing the joy of the beach.
Your shark wrangler friend, Elliot, is breathtaking! Look at those arms! Can I have him? Pam, I love your blog and shelling, but OMG! Is he single?
So cool!!! My family tried the whole paddle-out-and-catch-and-release-a-shark thing, but we didn’t even get a bite. Still, if you never try, you’ll never fail ;). Sharks are so breathtakingly beautiful. Also I’m glad you didn’t kill it!!! Congratulations!
This is SO COOL! In Venice Beach FL I saw a guy catch a tiny little shark, maybe a foot long, but this is way cooler! How come the line didn’t break? That’s a great name choice too! heehee
Elliot is going to be on Nat Geo Channel May 10 at 10pm on the last episode of The Raft!!!
So exciting…. Sanibel’s own! So mark it in your calendars- May 10 at 10pm National Geographic Channel.
So cool, right y’all?
Pam, I am so glad you posted this! I used to follow you a while back but have been out of the loop for a bit ;)
I follow a group on Facebook and many people are upset about shark fishing in Sanibel, particularly at Blind Pass.
I have been a bit concerned about it because my husband fishes for all kinds of fish but does some shark fishing in Sanibel as well. He is responsible and I don’t want shark fishermen to get a bad wrap from people saying that they are luring sharks into the waters where children swim.
I think people are just afraid because they don’t understand. These sharks are already in the waters. The sea is their home but they are not looking for people as food. As long as you are knowledgeable, you are safe. Swimming at dusk is probably not the best idea…and this is when the fishing begins. Anyway, I am rambling, thanks for the great informative post!
Thank you for writing Cheryl! The only thing I can really say (other than what I’ve posted here about the good work that Elliot and other tag and release fishermen are giving to the education of one of THE most important creatures of our oceans ) is that I hope that folks realize that MOST fishermen are responsible. I don’t promote irresponsible behavior for shellers or fishermen so I hope that the fishermen who are being irresponsible will be educated about whatever they are doing wrong- in a manner that is also responsible.
Yes, sharks scare people… but maybe I should have added these FACTS in this post (which I will add now). I just didn’t want to get anybody freaked about some of the other things that are waaaaay more dangerous than sharks… which have been swimming close to shores where people are also swimming for millions of years.
This is just in Florida- and notice the dates.
Here are Deaths in Florida FACTS from Florida Museum Of Natural History
2,272 Biking (1990-2009) (around 20 years)
782 Boating (2002-2013)
459 Lightning (1959-2010)
361 rip current (2004-2013)
125 tornado (1985-2010)
17 alligator (1948-2005)
9 Shark (1959-2010) (around 50 years)
thanks for writing!
What an amazing catch w/ the aid of your friend, Elliot!