Great white sharks are rarely seen in the Gulf of Mexico. The apex predator is known for living in cool waters not commonly seen on our coast. As you read this, you may have a hard time believing one that has been spotted eerily close to shore.
As Jimmy Campbell left Friday with his father Wayde aboard the Trista Lynn to fish near the shore, they stopped close to the three-mile green buoy west of Bean Point, the northernmost point of Anna Maria Island, to get bait.
"There were a lot of bait schools around," said Jimmy Campbell, who is well known for his success in local fishing tournaments. "As we're going around the bait schools, a big shark came up, almost examining us, curious about what we were doing."
Campbell's dad, Wayde, has been fishing commercially for nearly 50 years and never heard of a great white sighting that close to shore.
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"At first we thought, 'Hey, that's a great white' but didn't really believe it." Jimmy Campbell said. "Then it sort of rolled on its side and we knew right then it was definitely a great white, not a mako or other big shark."
The large shark, which Campbell estimated at between 12 and 14 feet, hung around the boat for a few minutes as all aboard stared in awe. The lingering allowed Campbell to get a picture and another angler to get a video.
"We thought it would be scared of the boat, but it wasn't. If we had a big bait like a bonita I'm sure I could've hooked it!" said Jimmy Campbel, an ambitious angler.
Although rare, great whites are not completely unusual in the Gulf of Mexico. In years past, they have been seen and caught by anglers when water temperatures are between 65 and 70 degrees. On Friday, the water temperature was 68 degrees where the Campbells were fishing.
Last March, Go Fast! Fishing Charters hooked a reported 18-foot great white shark 30 miles west of Anna Maria Island, fighting it for a few hours before cutting the line. The video of this encounter went viral.
On Jan. 24, 1994, an estimated 2,200-pound great white was brought into Indian Rocks Beach. That beast was caught 23 miles offshore.
Great whites are currently protected, so catching one would require its release by law. "That still would have been fun!" Jimmy Campbell said.
The fact it was only three miles from shore is the most unusual detail here. Campbell says another angler who saw the shark in the same area Saturday contacted him, also confirming it was a great white.
I don't know about you, but this is another reason I prefer to stay on the boat instead of in the water.