Spearing a giant tuna on a single breath is an ultimate goal for veteran freedivers, but one rarely fulfilled because the fish are so swift and elusive. But Wendell Ko (pictured below) recently bagged an 188-pound yellowfin off Kona, Hawaii, while surrounded by circling sharks.

Wendell Ko poses with 188-pound yellowfin tuna speared off Kona, Hawaii. Credit Jon Schwartz

It’s beieved to be the largest yellowfin ever speared and landed, unassisted, off Hawaii. And perhaps the most amazing aspect of this catch is that several oceanic whitetip sharks did not devour the prize before it could be brought to the boat.

Jon Schwartz, a Southern California photographer, was present to document the catch and recently posted a blog report with the accompanying images.

They reveal the wild nature of these open-water dives, with sharks and mahi-mahi swimming nearby–several times the divers poked at sharks with their spear guns to keep the predators at bay.

With Ko were Mike Shimabuku and Nate Kaneshiro, aboard the Lana Kila, captained by Bomboy Llanes. Once in the water they became surrounded by mahi-mahi and whitetip sharks.

“These sharks can be aggressive when provoked [so] Ko and his buddies and I were mostly concerned with keeping them calm by not letting them get near any speared fish,” Schwartz wrote.

Ko, a former state spearfishing champion, shot a mahi-mahi at one location before the group decided to try somewhere else for tuna. Just then a school of giant yellowfin (called ahi in Hawaii) became visible far beneath the surface.

“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” Schwartz wrote. “I knew that it was very rare for spearfishermen to actually see one; they are more like a dream than a realistic goal, and here I was seeing them on my maiden spearfishing photo shoot!”

The author then described what it is that makes bluewater hunting such a challenging sport:

“… They’ve got to swim down to incredible depths and then lie in wait for sometimes over 2 minutes, and do this repeatedly in the hopes that they just might get close enough to the tuna.”

Ko waited patiently for the special fish he was seeking, barely visible to Schwartz. The spear was attached to several floats, which after the shot descended as though “Godzilla was pulling them down,” Schwartz said.

Bluewater hunters require floats to tackle fish of this size, strength and speed. The floats attached to Ko’s spear eventually tired out the giant tuna, with the divers still in the water, and with sharks seemingly sensing an easy meal.

“It felt like they were getting a bit closer,” Schwartz wrote. “So Nate and Mike continued to protect Wendell by staring the sharks down and poking at them with their spears when they got too close.”

Thirty minutes later, the divers could spot the tiring tuna. Ko pulled on the line and finally hauled the yellowfin to the surface, and swam it to the boat, mysteriously without intervention from the sharks.

It was cause for celebration. Ko, despite has renowned status and years of trying, had bested his previous ahi record by 120 pounds.

Schwartz, who specializes in big-game fishing photography and as an angler used to battle marlin from aboard his kayak, concluded with this statement:

“I’ve seen a lot of really wild stuff on the ocean. But this was far and away the gnarliest thing I ever witnessed.”

(Note: Schwartz captured some of this episode on video, which is posted on his blog.)

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