A great white shark was spotted this morning off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard by a group of fishermen, officials said.
The shark, which was confirmed as a great white by a state expert, was circling the carcass of a minke whale off of Gay Head, said Reginald Zimmerman, a spokesman for the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.
Jeff Lynch of Chilmark, a commercial fisherman who sails out of Menemsha, said he was headed out to go mackerel fishing this morning with two friends when they spotted the dead whale, then saw the great white swimming around underneath it.
“The funny thing is I was going mackerel fishing to get shark bait,” he said.
Lynch said he motored out of Menemsha at about 6 a.m. and spotted the whale carcass and shark at about 7 a.m. about 1 to 1 1/2 miles west of Gay Head. He said they drifted near the site and observed the shark until 7:30 or 7:45 a.m.
“It was kind of following me around,” said Lynch. He said it came, at times, within two feet of his boat.
“I had a few ‘Jaws’ quotes going through my head,” he said. “I go shark fishing all the time. But to see something that size was absolutely incredible.”
He estimated the animal was 20 feet long and weighed 2,000 pounds.
Lynch said he took pictures of the shark and emailed them to state shark expert Greg Skomal, who wanted to tag the large specimen but wasn't able to reach the site in time.
Will Farrissey of Oak Bluffs was on the boat with Lynch and said the shark was the largest he’s seen.
“It was pretty amazing seeing it,” Farrissey. “It is definitely something I’ll remember my whole life.”
The fishermen originally approached the dead whale because Coast Guard officials had asked them to take photos of the whale. When their boat approached, the shark swam below the boat, Farrissey said.
“All we said was, ‘We don’t want to sink now’,” he said.
The encounter ended when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Environmental Police towed the whale carcass away and the shark disappeared, Lynch and Farrissey said.
“What I really want to stress is there’s no need for panic,” said Zimmerman, the state agency spokesman.
Zimmerman said there have been sharks spotted in the area in previous years because they follow seals for feeding.
While no official warning has been released, he stressed people to take caution in the water and avoid areas frequented by seals, a favorite food of the sharks.
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