On Oct. 25, a date of significance, Zach Wolk was surf fishing at Cape San Blas, Florida, when he landed a huge tiger shark that would later astound scientists at NOAA Fisheries in Panama City, Florida.
Wolk of Montgomery, Texas, measured the female tiger shark, took photos with it, and jotted down the information he found on a tag he discovered in the shark before releasing it back into the water.
"Can't wait to see the information from her previous tag!" Montgomery wrote on Instagram with the photo of he and the shark.
Dana Bethea, a research ecologist with NOAA Fisheries, was on the receiving end of the tag information sent in by Wolk to the Southeast Fisheries Science Center, Panama City Laboratory.
When Bethea studied the number of the tag, she thought it was a mistake because it was one digit short of tag numbers that had been placed on fish in the last several years.
But there was no mistake.
The tiger shark was caught as a pup when it was a mere 32-inches long, and, remarkably, it was caught 10 years ago to the day from when Wolk landed the fish. The tiger shark was tagged on Oct. 25, 2006, and now it is 11 feet, 5 inches long.
"I couldn't believe it when I got a hit! Ten years to the day!? I immediately called my colleagues into my office to make sure it wasn't a mistake," Bethea told GrindTV in an Email. "We were ecstatic. I had a huge smile on my face. This is a big deal!"
The coincidence of the tiger shark being caught on the exact same date 10 years apart is just part of the amazement. It is also the longest tag the Southeast Fisheries Science Center has had at liberty.
"The database contains information on over 19,000 animals, dating back to 1993," Bethea said. "Several recaptures are called in each year by recreational anglers, commercial fishermen, and colleagues.
"Most recaptures are weeks or months old. Every once and awhile we'll get a tag that's been at liberty for a couple years. This is the first recapture we've had like this!"
The previous longest was a little over five years.
"This is the first data we have for a tiger shark from practically birth to maturity, helping further refine growth for this species," Bethea added.
The tiger shark was recaptured 64 nautical miles (or about 74 miles) from where it was first tagged and released in the Gulf of Mexico, though it likely has traveled thousands of miles north and south along the west Florida shelf.
In a follow-up post, Wolk called the details of the tag "insane."
"He seemed just as excited as I was," Bethea said of Wolk's reaction. "It was nice to interact with someone so helpful and genuinely interested in our research. NOAA benefits greatly from citizen science like this."
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