Brave, Dumb, or Both? Angler Dives Overboard, Saves 300-Pound Bull Shark

Catch, release, and revive in the waters off Gasparilla, Florida.
Oct 4, 2013· 1 MIN READ
Salvatore Cardoni holds a political science degree from the George Washington University. He's written about all things environment since 2007.

Ordinarily, the catch and release of a shark involves a fisherman removing the hook, severing the line, and then kicking back and watching the marine predator skitter away into the ocean depths. But there was nothing ordinary about what happened recently to Florida angler Orion Wholean.

After a 300-pound bull shark that Wholean caught during a charter fishing expedition in the Gulf of Mexico failed to swim away right after he released it, the angler leapt into the water to revive the languishing predator.

"I held onto it for about 30 seconds with my fins and kicked it until it was lively enough and then it swam away,” he said to a CBS affiliate in Florida. “I know it's still out there perfect and healthy today.”

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, gingerly moving fish in a forward motion through water helps infuse oxygen-rich water into their gills.

Posted to YouTube on Tuesday, October 1, the video of Wholean’s valor has gone viral, garnering more than 487,000 views to date.

While almost every shark conservationist would advise against jumping into the water with a bull shark—while not an endangered species, they are very aggressive to humans—the chances are that an equal number of them had to smile wryly at the irony of this rescue act.

A study released in March pegged the number of sharks killed in fisheries each year at about 100 million. But because black market shark fishing goes unreported, scientists estimate that those annual numbers might be as high as 273 million.

The reason? Shark fin soup.

Considered a delicacy in East Asia, shark fin soup is prized for its alleged medicinal properties, though there’s not a whiff of science to back that up. In reality, shark finning is an act of extreme cruelty; sharks caught for this purpose often have their appendages sliced off while they’re still alive. Many are then tossed back into the ocean and bleed out on the seafloor.

The same fate—minus the severed dorsal fin, of course—that Wholean’s bravery prevented.

"A lot of people would just throw it over the side, and it would sink, and then it would die," said Wholean. "I knew how exhausted the fish was, and I really just cared to get the fish revived.”