Remember when a giant great white shark was put on display in Morro Bay?

A man touches the jaws of a 1,700-pound great white shark that was put on display in Morro Bay after it got caught up in a fisherman’s net and died in November 2000.
A man touches the jaws of a 1,700-pound great white shark that was put on display in Morro Bay after it got caught up in a fisherman’s net and died in November 2000. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Editor’s note: Tribune staff writer Travis Gibson is guest-writing this week’s edition of Photos from the Vault.

Just like the rest of the Central Coast, the chatter around The Tribune’s newsroom this week has been all about sharks.

The sightings from Cayucos to Morro Strand State Beach to the Pismo Beach Pier reminded senior photographer Joe Johnston about a less threatening shark encounter a long time ago, back when he still used film in his camera. He couldn’t remember when, so we dug through the backroom archives and found an envelope of film with previously unpublished images from 2000.

We did a little more research and found that it was in November of that year that a 1,700-pound, almost 14-foot great white shark was put on display inside a refrigerated shipping container in Morro Bay after it got caught up in a fisherman’s net and died.

Here’s the story from Nov. 30, 2000, by Tribune staff writers Neil Farrell and Leila Knox:


A real-life Jaws, whose fatal swim into an offshore net will probably land it in a Santa Cruz research foundation, has been scaring up quite a crowd of gawkers.

“I can’t believe they caught Jaws,” 6-year-old Carson Gorman said Wednesday as he looked at the great white shark that’s being kept in a freezer on a Morro Bay pier.

Carson’s mother, Ranae Gorman of Paso Robles, said she pulled her son out of school for what could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity — getting up close to a 13-foot, 9-inch, 1,700-pound monster of the deep.

Just how long the shark will be at Driscoll’s Wharf, located across from the Morro Bay power plant and behind the Fish Shanty restaurant on the Embarcadero, isn’t certain.

Fred Arnoldi, the commercial fisherman who accidentally caught the shark on Friday, said the great white will be gone by this weekend. But wharf personnel were unsure of exactly when the shark would be moved to Santa Cruz.

The Pelagic Shark Research Foundation in Santa Cruz is close to reaching a deal to buy the shark, Arnoldi said Wednesday. He wouldn’t reveal his asking price.

Arnoldi, who is having the foundation send the shark’s jaws back to him, said he could have sold it to the highest bidder, but decided the research foundation was the best place for it.

“Basically, I’m eligible to do with it what I feel is right, and a shark of that size isn’t good eating,” said Arnoldi. “So the logical thing to do is go to research.”

The shark foundation has been conducting a shark monitoring program, having tagged some 65 white sharks thus far, several with satellite tracking devices. Some of their sharks show signs of encounters with man. One has a harpoon sticking out of it, he said, and another has a collar of monofilament swordfish netting around its neck.

Much is unknown about great whites, explained Sean Van Sommeran, executive director of the shark foundation. Small sharks can be found off the West Coast year-round, but the big ones appear to migrate, coming to the California coastline at certain times of the year, usually when marine mammals and particularly elephant seals migrate to the area.

“The great whites are most numerous in the fall and winter here,” said Van Sommeran. “No one knows where they go or come from when they’re not here.”

But with satellite tracking now being used, he hopes the mystery will soon be solved. “With these satellite tracking devices, within a season or two, we will unlock the mystery of their migrations, “ he predicted.

Surfers spotted a large shark swimming next to the Pismo Beach Pier on Saturday, July 9, 2016.

Visit www.sanluisobispo.com/photos-from-the-vault to see old photos and read selected archives.

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