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Sharks are taking tuna from the lines of Long Island anglers

A harmless 15 foot basking shark cruises off

A harmless 15 foot basking shark cruises off Robert Moses State Park parking lot 5 on June 20, 2004. Credit: Newsday / Michael E. Ach

Another big tuna on the end of an angler’s line has gone to the sharks in the offshore waters off western Long Island.

This one, a potential 200-pounder, was hooked southwest of the Coimbra wreck last Friday aboard Capt. John McMurray’s Oceanside charter vessel “One More Cast.” As has been the case with several such reports this year, a great white made short work of the struggling bluefin.

“We never actually saw the tuna,” said McMurray on Thursday morning, “but we had it on for two hours. We had been battling bluefins in the 67- to 70-inch range over the past few days and this one felt like it was a similar size.”

According to McMurray, the fight was a tough one for the David Yeagerman charter. The rod broke under the strain of battle but they continued to work the fish with the reel and butt section only. As they finally began to gain some line, a tremendous great white shark cruised past the boat.

“Fifteen minutes passed and we didn’t see the shark again,” said McMurray, “so I thought we might be okay. Then we felt a bump at the end of the line and the tuna stopped fighting. A second bump, seconds later, made the line go slack. Another minute or two passed and the huge shark appeared tight to the port side, 50 yards of our blue, hollow-core line trailing from its mouth. I’d estimate its size at about 18 feet.”

Despite the cut-off, McMurray’s crew still had a successful outing, decking a 100-pound Allison tuna and some smaller bluefins. Like other captains working what has been a solid offshore bite this year, the skipper concentrated his efforts around pods of humpback whales and dolphin feeding on massive schools of sand eels. The game entails quietly approaching pockets of life and jigging the tuna with RonZ or Madd Mantis jigs.

“It’s not unheard of for big sharks to grab tuna during their struggle,” said McMurray, “but it seems to be occurring more frequently these days — and the size of the great whites have been enormous. I think it’s because the amount of life out there has been incredible. Like any predatory marine creature, the sharks are following all that bait and it’s bringing them here.”

Greg Skomal, a fisheries biologist with the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries and a leading shark expert, agrees with McMurray’s assessment. “We’ve seen subtle increases in the great white population since they became a protected species in the late 1990’s,” he said. “There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence for a growing population; spotter planes are seeing them, anglers are reporting encounters, and we’ve tagged over 130 off the coast of Massachusetts. I’m not surprised they’re showing up amongst Long Island’s tuna fleet. Here off Cape Cod, great whites are ripping stripers from angler’s lines.”

Skomal pointed out that a 15-foot great white is a massive animal. “It looks like a bus and can easily take a big tuna in a bite or two,” he said. “An 18-footer would certainly have no problem. A tuna that’s bleeding and making the right kind of sounds as the fight goes on is a natural target. If a great white gets the chance, he’s going to grab a relatively easy meal.”


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