Behind-the-Scenes Photos: Record Great White Captured and Released

This massive great white shark is believed to be the largest white shark ever captured and released. It stretches the tape at 17 feet 9 inches and its estimated weight is 4,225 pounds. But as you can see, this was not your typical hook and line landing. The shark was caught, and released, off Guadalupe Island by a National Geographic team while they were shooting an episode of Shark Men. All photos Courtesy of National Geographic
In fact, the crew hauled in the shark as part of a scientific expedition. They tagged it, named it Apache (after Captain Brett McBride's dog) and released it. Their goal is to get a better understanding of the great white's life cycle and find out where their nursery habitat is. For as infamous as great whites have become, there is actually very little scientific data on them. Scientists don't even have an estimation of the species' population. "I am incredibly proud of my crew for hauling in a record-breaking white shark like Apache," Expedition leader Chris Fischer says. "But I am more proud of the data we have collected from him and other white sharks to help ensure the well-being of this endangered species as a whole."
So just how big is Apache? Some comparisons…
- 2 feet shorter than Kevin Van Dam's bass boat
- 2,725 pounds heavier and 2 feet 9 inches longer than the average white shark
- 1,561 pounds heavier than the IGFA's current all-tackle white shark record (2,664 pounds)
- 2,445 pounds heavier than Walter Maxwell's world record tiger shark (1,780 pounds)
- 1,320 pounds heavier than the combined world records for bluefin, yellowfin, blackfin, albacore, skipjack and bigeye tuna (2,905 pounds)
While Apache may be the largest great white ever captured and released, he's not the largest one ever taken. There are several potential record sharks, but the most widely accepted record is a 4,500-pound monster harpooned by famous shark fisherman Frank Mundus in 1964. The catch was accepted by the Guinness Book of Records, however the shark was never officially weighed. Most scientists agree that the maximum size a white shark can reach is about 20 feet and 7,000 pounds.
The National Geographic crew started its research in 2009 and has since tagged and released more than 20 great white sharks. The team is made up of a unique mix of expert big-game fishermen, Chris Fischer and Brett McBride and renowned shark biologist, Michael Domeier, president of the Marine Conservation Science Institute.
To land the sharks, they haul them onto an elevator-like lift that has been custom built into a converted crab fishing boat. They essentially beach the shark to give the scientists enough time to tag it and take samples. Then they lower the shark back into the water and release it. This means getting up close and personal with the sharks.
"Chris and Brett said they would catch them for me and they did," Domeier says. "The key was the hydraulic lift. I know a few people who could catch the shark, but Chris is the only person I know that can lift it out of the water and then drop it back when I'm ready to release it."
But the crew's techniques recently came underfire after they poorly hooked a great white nicknamed Junior. The shark inhaled a 13-inch circle hook and got tangled in some buoys. After about an hour and 20 minutes the crew was still able to release it alive by clipping the hook with a pair of bolt cutters. But months later Junior showed up in bad shape, with ugly wounds on his head and around his mouth. Shark lovers flew into an outrage, and originally experts believed the wounds were from the buried hook. However, after a video was released of Junior, they found out the injuries were actually caused by other sharks and not the hook.
The Shark Men's methods and gear:
They use a custom made circle hook, engineered specifically by Mustad. It's the largest fishing hook in the world and identical to the smaller Mustad 'Perfect" circle hooks. Attached to the hook is chain, then wire and then rope. Attached to the rope are hard plastic long-liner buoys called '90-pound' buoys, meaning they take 90 pounds of pressure to pull underwater. Some of the biggest sharks have dived with 4 buoys attached. When a great white is hooked, the entire arrangement is thrown in the water and followed by a chase boat. The buoys tire the shark and the guys aboard the chase boat (usually Capt. Brett McBride) handline the shark in. As the buoys are retrieved, they are outfitted with a carabiniere so they can slide down the line. All of the buoys are moved closer to the shark's head, keeping it high in the water column. Then the lift platform is lowered into the water, the shark is maneuvered on, and finally then lifted out of the water to be studied and tagged before being released.
Check out the crew's techniques for yourself … the next new episode of Shark Men Season 2 airs on the National Geographic Channel on June 11 at 10 p.m.

Last month National Geographic's Shark Men crew claimed the record for the largest great white shark to be captured and released. Check out the photos and story of how they did it.