“We’ve fished for sharks a lot and never seen anything like that,” Crilly told the Asbury Park Press, which first reported the story. “We were amazed by how big it was.”
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Crilly told the Press that he and his crew were participating in a mako shark tournament and had multiple types of bait in the water, including a tuna hanging from a rope. They were located about 30 miles southeast of the Manasquan Inlet, Crilly told the Press, near where German forces torpedoed the oil tanker ship R.P. Resor during World War II.
Marie Levine, the executive director of the New Jersey-based Shark Research Institute, told The Washington Post that it was not unusual for a shark to be seen that far out in the ocean or for it to approach a fishing boat.
“White sharks are intelligent animals,” Levine said. “And if something’s unfamiliar, they’re going to inspect it, see what’s going on.”
Melissa Michaelson, an advocate for great white sharks who volunteers at the Shark Research Institute, had a different outlook. It is “very rare” for great white sharks to approach boats, she said, especially because only about 300 of them have been documented in the western Atlantic in the past decade.
Waters off New Jersey and New York are the only known nursery area for great white sharks, Michaelson said, so the shark that Crilly saw may have been a mature female who came to the area to give birth.
“She’s a magnificent animal,” Michaelson told The Post. “She came in with all sorts of Jersey girl attitude, and she definitely put on a show for those boys.”
If Crilly’s estimate of the shark’s length is correct, it would be about the same size as Mary Lee, a great white shark that became a Twitter sensation as fans tracked her journeys up and down the East Coast. Scientists put a satellite tag on Mary Lee off the coast of Cape Cod in 2012 and last located her near South Jersey before her tracker stopped sending signals in June 2017.
Sharks have made appearances in the Atlantic Ocean several times in recent months. The data-collecting organization Ocearch got a “ping” east of Ocean City, in May from a great white shark it had nicknamed Brunswick. On June 2, a 17-year-old North Carolina girl was attacked by an unknown type of shark and underwent surgery to have her leg and several fingers amputated.
Great white sharks can grow to more than 20 feet and weigh more than 2.5 tons, according to National Geographic. They are the largest predatory fish on Earth and are estimated to be responsible for one-third to one-half of the more than 100 annual shark attacks worldwide. Great whites are considered a vulnerable species whose numbers are decreasing due to overfishing and accidental catching in gill nets.