NAVARRE BEACH — The first great white shark ever caught off the Navarre Beach Pier was reeled in Tuesday by a local fisherman, according to reports from the scene.
The shark was caught by Jeremy Utter, who fishes frequently at the pier, according to Thomas Theilman, who works at the pier. Utter was not immediately available for comment Tuesday, but Theilman helped tag and release the shark, estimated to be 10 feet long and 700 pounds. Utter caught the shark using bonito as bait, Theilman said.
Great white sharks are a protected species and cannot be kept, Theilman said, so when the shark was reeled in close to shore about 3 p.m., he and several other people affiliated with the True Blue shark fishing team tagged it and released it back into the Gulf of Mexico.
"It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, honestly," Theilman said. "I'm speechless."
"The phone here at the pier hasn't stopped ringing," pier manager Dorinda Billoni said in a telephone interview as news of the catch spread across the area and throughout the media Tuesday evening. "All of us here are so excited about it."
It's unusual for great white sharks to be seen this far west along Florida's Gulf Coast she said.
"It's rare," Theilman agreed.
Among the people who saw the rare catch was Alisha Day, who was visiting from Oklahoma.
Day was walking along the pier watching people fish when she spotted Utter wrestling with his line.
"I thought, 'Man, he's got something big'," she said. "And all of a sudden, everybody was, 'That's a great white shark! '" Day's photos of the shark have since been widely seen in the media.
Video of the catch was posted on the Facebook page of Windjammers on the Pier Restaurant & Bar, with a note of appreciation. "Our local shark fishermen work closely with NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) to catch, tag and safely release a wide variety of sharks in the Gulf of Mexico," the post noted.
According to a NOAA website, "White sharks of all ages and sizes are present in continental shelf waters year-round, but their distribution varies by season. During winter, most white sharks are found off the northeast coast of Florida, the Florida Keys, and in the Gulf of Mexico offshore of Tampa Bay, Florida, where they have generally been considered rare."