A group of men off the coast of Southern California landed a massive shark and it could be a history-making catch.

By Anh Do, Kate Mather and Joe Mozingo, Los Angeles Times

"Yeehaw!" the sportfishermen yelled when they saw the fins slice the gray channel water off Huntington Beach.

The chum of chopped mackerel and sardines had worked. The fight was on — and so were the cameras.

The six men had motored out in the June gloom Monday morning for more than a day of fun. They were filming a reality show called "The Professionals" for the Outdoor Channel.

The way they tell it, they hooked a giant mako and Jason Johnston, from Mesquite, Texas, got in the pole harness to reel it in. He grunted and slipped and slid for 2 1/2 hours as the shark ran the line out almost a mile, thrashing and jumping 20 feet in the air. They finally pulled it to the side of the boat, the Breakaway, and tied it up with a steel cable.

By the time they hauled it to Huntington Harbour and had it weighed at a processing plant in Gardena, they realized they appeared to have broken a record for the largest mako to be caught by line, 1,323.5 pounds.

The men posed next to the cobalt blue fish and opened its jaws, revealing its dagger-sharp rows of teeth to the cameras. They breathlessly recounted how, if anything went wrong, they would have ended up as "lunch" or "at the bottom of the sea."

Johnston, 40, described it to one television reporter as "a gigantic nightmare looking to reap horrible terror on anything it comes across."

One of Earth's most ancient and mythologized creatures still manages to stir humans' imaginations, scratching that atavistic urge to bring in a monster. But even before it became clear that the catch was for a reality show, plenty of people wondered why they really had to kill such a magnificent animal.

Wouldn't just pulling it close and photographing it have been enough?

Ben Ahadpour, who owns the marina the fisherman left from, said the captain of the boat, Matt Potter, 33, of Huntington Beach, knew the dock rules prohibited bringing in sharks.

"He shouldn't have done that," Ahadpour said. "They could have done a catch and release. They can bring it up close, take a picture and let the shark go. But I guess they're so excited about their catch and getting his two minutes of fame."

David McGuire, the director of Shark Stewards, a Bay Area nonprofit that advocates for the protection of sharks, said he was shocked.

"It's really something you see more in Florida than in California, where we have more of a conservation ethic," he said. "People should be viewing these sharks as wonderful animals that are important to the ocean and admiring how beautiful they are."

He lamented that so many shows about sharks continue to evoke Jaws-like terror rather than science. "These kind of reality shows are not reality. The reality is we're overfishing sharks, and this macho big-game attitude should be a relic of the past."

Keith Poe, a sportfisherman who tags and releases sharks for conservationists, said that most anglers are releasing sharks these days, but might keep a potential record-breaker .

Biggest sharks caught

The 1,323.5-pound-plus mako shark caught off the coast of Huntington Beach could break a world record. Current record-holders of select shark species:

Type World record Location taken Date Calif. record
White 2,664 lbs. Ceduna, Australia 1959 NA
Mako 1,221 lbs. Chatham, Mass. 2001 1,098 bs., 12 oz.
Thresher 767 lbs., 3 oz. Bay of Islands, New Zealand 1983 575 lbs.
Blue 528 lbs. Montauk, N.Y. 2001 258 lbs., 8 oz.

Sources: Calif. Dept. of Fish and Game; International Game Fish Assn. Graphics reporting by Julie Sheer

Los Angeles Times

"I wouldn't keep it, but the general sportfishing community would say it's acceptable," Poe said.

Potter, whose nickname is "Mako Matt," doesn't buy any of the criticism, adding that he unloaded the shark at a public dock — not the marina. "It's just like any other fishing. The state limit for mako is two per person per day."

He said he had five passengers out for three days and kept only the big shark. And he said he did not break the marina's rules because he used the public docks.

Jack Vitek, the world records coordinator for the International Game Fish Assn., said the catch was "enormous."