3m great white shark breaches and lands in Oceans Research boat

The following report and accompanying photos were provided by Cassie Heil and Oceans Research. Thanks to Ms. Heil and Oceans Research for sharing this story, and kudos to all those who helped with the rescue effort.

Great white shark in the back of this Oceans Research vessel after breaching into the boat.
(photo courtesy of Oceans Research)

3m Great White Shark breaches into Research Boat Oceans Research Team gets a little too close for comfort

Mossel Bay, 18 July, 2011: The Oceans Research team, a marine research organisation working in Mossel Bay, got the surprise of a lifetime today when a 3 meter great white shark breached into their research vessel, shocking a field specialist and her crew.

Field Specialist Dorien Schroder of Mossel Bay, and six crew members had been chumming since 7:30 this morning with sardines off of Seal Island, conducting research for a population dynamics study that has been ongoing for the past three years. They had been chumming for over an hour and had a fair amount of activity around the boat, taking data on at least 4 sharks, including a shark named Pasella, which has been frequently seen in the bay since 2008.

Activity around the boat had ceased for about five minutes and all was pretty quiet at the stern. Schroder describes the incident; Next thing I know I hear a splash, and see a white shark breach out of the water from side of the boat hovering, literally, over the crewmember who was chumming on the boats portside. Schroder automatically sprang into action and pulled the crewmember quickly away towards the stern of the boat’s platform into safety. The crewmembers all jumped towards the stern of the boat as the 3m, 500kg, shark landed on the top of the fuel and bait storage containers. The shark had landed with only half of its body onto the boat and Schroder and her team hoped that as it thrashed it would make its way back into the water. But instead the panicked shark worked itself into the boat getting stuck in between the 1.5x2m area behind the container and boats stern. The shark began thrashing around, destroying equipment and cutting the fuel lines as it twisted and turned on the boats deck.

In the meantime, Schroder was able to calm her stressed crew and direct them to walk along the railing towards the bow of the boat to safety. Schroder immediately radioed Enrico Gennari, and Ryan Johnson, both Directors of Oceans and world renowned shark scientists about the incident. Gennari and Johnson quickly assembled a team as they raced to assist Schroder and her crew. Schroder then began pouring water over the shark’s gills consistently until Johnson, Gennari, and their crew of field specialists Riley Elliott and Rob Lewis arrived 15 minutes later. They immediately pulled their boat Lamnidae, alongside the vessel Cheetah, and climbed aboard. Once aboard they made sure that no one was injured, all crew members were safe, and the environment was secure before working their best to figure out how to get the shark back into the water quickly and safely. Johnson and Gennari secured a rope around the tail of the shark and tied the other side of the rope to the vessel Lamindae and attempted to use the side of the boat as leverage to tow the shark out of the boat into the water but were unsuccessful. They then tried this method again using Lamnidae to tow the shark off the platform through the opening in between the motors, but both methods failed. Port authority was then contacted regarding the incident and was requested to assist in getting a crane so that the 500kg shark could be safely lifted off of the boat and released. Since the fuel lines in the vessel had been cut by the shark, Lamnidae had to tow Cheetah back from the island into the harbour with the shark still onboard.

Scientists work to help rescue the trapped white shark.
(photo courtesy of Oceans Research)

Once back in the harbour, Cheetah moored next to a fishing boat and they assisted giving the crew a water hose which was immediately placed inside the mouth of the shark so that water could further ventilate the gills. The Smit Lombok then moored alongside Cheetah and they connected one of their large lifting hooks to the rope which was secured to the shark’s tail and began to lift the shark off of the boat and into the water. The shark immediately began thrashing as soon as it hit the water and Johnson and Gennari quickly cut the ropes as the shark swam away from the stern, and underneath the Smit Lombok. The shark was then seen swimming towards the harbor mouth.

The Oceans team had hoped that the shark would be able to orient itself out of the harbour however about 30 minutes later the shark had beached itself onto a small beach inside the harbour. Enrico Gennari and Ryan Johnson returned to aid the shark in its orientation by physically trying to walk it however the shark was unable to orient itself and again veered towards the beach. The team of scientists then decided to fasten the shark to Lamnidae using two ropes attached to both the tail and behind the pectoral fins with the sharks head tilted upwards in order to ventilate the gills properly and slowly made their way out of the harbor. About one kilometer from the harbor the shark began to regain its orientation and strength and as the ropes were cut the shark powerfully swam away.

When working with animals this large you have to take every precaution possible to ensure the safety of the scientists and sharks. However, it is impossible to predict everything that can happen. What is important is how you respond to such situation. No one was injured and the shark survived, this is a credit to our team, the port authorities and members of the community who assisted.


  1. Paul M says:

    So, for the sake of research, you attract the shark to your boat with chum, then the shark leaps into the air in an effort to find the source of that chum, and dies in your boat. That defeats the whole purpose of learning about and protecting a species. Why don’t you just leave the g d animal alone?

    • Just Saying says:

      Paul M – Do you not read! “powerfully swam away” Stop being such a nob and realize these people want to help!! Not kill!

    • Christy P says:

      The shark did not die. The researchers returned him to the ocean. Also, select animals are sacrificed all the time in order to learn how to better protect them. Most scientists find ways to avoid hurting the animal during their research, but accidents happen. The death of a handful of animals that leads to knowledge that can convince an entire country to forbid the mass killing of a species is justifiable. These studies can also aide in the healing of humans who have been harmed by these animals, and in educating the public about animals that could be considered dangerous or endangered. Ignoring the problem, or “leaving the g d animal alone” is not a solution.

    • Hugh says:


      If you had read the story properly, it said the shark survived after they managed to got it off the boat and out the habour.

  2. Christian Marsh says:

    Shut up Paul M, the shark didn’t die you idiot. And the sake of research is for the sake of helping the sharks and marine life ya d%$k.
    Good on ya all for taking the time to help the shark all the way back out to sea with re-orientation. Top effort

  3. Eric says:

    I can go fishing on the ocean for hours and not get a single bite. These guys go out and they fish are just diving right into the boat….but on a positive note, fishing is like sex, when its good…its really good, and when its bad….its still pretty good.

    • J S Hall says:

      Boat shark: WTF
      Other shark: Dude, what happened, you were there at the feeding frenzy, then you just like disappeared.
      Boat shark: That was bull—-, man.
      Other shark: Whaddaya mean?
      Boat shark: So, the water’s all bloody, right….
      Other shark: Duh, we were all there, our body is basically one big nose, remember?
      Boat shark: Shutup. Anyway, I figure there’s gotta be a hurt seal around there somewhere, probably right on the surface, so I’m gonna get that juicy li’l sucker; so I build up some speed….
      Other shark: Seems like a sound plan so far.
      Boat shark: Seriously, shutup. Then I breach – which is pretty… not scary, but it makes ya think – and boom! Not only was there no seal, but everything got all hard and airy and crap….
      Other shark: Air sucks, dude.
      Boat shark: True that; oh, and shutup. So I’m getting the bejeezus beat out of me by all this hard, pointy stuff and these weird-looking long seals are running around, and I said, well I’m here, I’m eatin’ somebody, but then after they stopped urinating on themselves, they like poured water on my gills… and got me back in the water… they saved me, man. I don’t know, it was a strange experience.
      Other shark: You think it was heaven?
      Boat shark: I don’t know, dude, I just don’t know. Hey, seal! Dibs!

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