Sharks Attack; Fishermen and Scientists Battle | New Times Broward-Palm Beach


Sharks Attack; Fishermen and Scientists Battle

The sun hangs low over the ocean as Anthony Segrich prepares for the last dive of the day. The boyishly handsome, 33-year-old Delray Beach tech consultant tugs at his camouflage wetsuit and shoulders his scuba tank. Somewhere in the depths below the small dive boat, a school of cobia swirls around an old shipwreck like glitter in a snow globe. Above, the surface is calm, the weather good. Before submerging, Segrich catches sight of Riviera Beach's swanky hotels two miles in the distance. Then he slips into the blue-green abyss, spear gun in hand.

A small scooter pulls him down toward the wreck. After circling the algae-encrusted tower for a few minutes, he closes in on a cobia, aims, and fires. The spear sails through the three-foot-long fish, sending blood swirling in all directions. Segrich doubles back toward the boat to unload his catch, which is still struggling. At 60 feet below the surface, he pauses to pull out a float bag for his prey.

Suddenly, the injured cobia bolts past him, trailing the line. Just behind it: a seven-foot bull shark.

Segrich has seen dozens like it throughout the day: inky shadows circling, waiting for wounded fish. But this one is too close for comfort.

A second shark strikes without warning — a 12-foot, 400-pound missile. At the last instant, Segrich catches sight of its gaping, basketball-sized mouth headed straight for his left thigh. But before the creature can bury its serrated teeth into him, he shoves its head away with his left hand. Instead, the shark chomps down on Segrich's calf.

While the diver thrashes, the bull shark opens its mouth and bites again, tearing off a football-sized chunk of flesh. Then it backs off, as if savoring the taste. Blood clouds the water, and Segrich reaches down to pull together what's left of his torn calf. He covers the wound with an elastic hip pouch and motors frantically toward two mates who are swimming nearby. The shark charges, but Segrich's friend thrusts a scooter in its face. The beast retreats.

Segrich screams when his fellow divers haul him onto the deck of the boat. Blood gushes from the wound until his friends use a plastic zip tie as a tourniquet. When someone dials 911, Segrich mumbles that his blood type is O-negative. The boat races toward shore.

Long before that shark attack, Mike Newman, another kind of mariner, stood on Jupiter Beach, staring at the sea. A winter storm front had just moved through, leaving the Atlantic as calm as a sheet of glass. But 25 feet down, the water was churning with sharp, triangular fins.

It's slaughter time, he thought.

Newman raced to the marina, boarded his boat the Sea Pig, and roared onto the open sea. Newman, then a tall, cocky 21-year-old with a taste for trucks and Corona beer, gripped the wheel with callused hands. Shirtless but dressed in bright-orange fishing pants and boots, he howled with joy while gunning the 26-foot vessel past the massive school of spinner sharks. Two buddies dropped 2,000 feet of gill net over the side.

Within minutes, the sharks were surrounded. The frenzied fish doubled back but were trapped between the beach and Newman's netting.

A wall of water a half-mile long exploded upward as the sharks hit the net at 30 mph. Newman grabbed his .44 magnum revolver from the cabin and began loading bullets. Then the three men hauled the net onto the boat. Newman cut the webbing to let the first spinner flop onto the deck. As the five-foot monster writhed, the fisherman cocked his gun, aimed at the back of the creature's head, and fired a single slug into the thick cartilage. The fish shuddered and then went limp.

As the other fishermen hauled the next shark onboard, Newman plunged a 12-inch knife into the first spinner, slicing off its head, tail, and fins with a butcher's precision. He saved the "plug" of meat for the market, tossed the fins into a basket on top of the cabin to dry, and deposited the head near the bow — it was the first of the day's nearly 200 grisly trophies.

"I used to love murdering the fuckers," Newman recalls of that day two decades ago. "Hell, we'd shoot spinners just for fun."

Still home to roughly two-thirds of the registered commercial shark fishermen in the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, Florida is the stubborn heart of the U.S.'s dying commercial shark-fishing industry. But as state and federal regulations on shark hunting have grown stricter over the past 20 years, most fishermen have given up stalking the predators. The number of commercial shark hunters in Florida has shrunk from several thousand to barely a hundred.

So as the hot weather and Florida beach season begin this month, sharks are on the rebound. Attacks like the one on Anthony Segrich might well follow.