CCSU News

Shark wrangler gains a following

By THE INQUIRER AND MIRROR
July 28, 2014

NANTUCKET — It's 10:30 a.m. at Low Beach and Elliot Sudal's rod is pointing sharply toward the water.

The beach is empty. To the casual observer he looks like just another lucky angler. But unlike your typical surfcaster, on the other end of Sudal's line this breezy Wednesday morning is an 8-foot, 1-inch sandbar shark: the largest Sudal has ever hooked off the shores of Nantucket.

"People don't realize there are so many sharks here," he said. "People don't like to think about it but there are only like five to 10 deaths from shark attacks every year, and that's worldwide."

The battle lasts for nearly 45 minutes as Sudal paces back and forth along the shoreline, reeling in line whenever the opportunity arises. Finally a gray fin emerges just feet from the shore, and Sudal hands the rod off to his friend Samson Piuggi.

"This is the sketchy part," Sudal says.

Carefully but quickly he waits for a pause in the shore break and grabs the shark by the tail, dragging it just outside the breaking waves. Then, he and the Piuggi brothers (19-year-old Jack, 16-year-old Samson and 15-year-old Marco) spring into action.

"They're my shark wranglers in training," Sudal said of the brothers.

Sudal cuts the line while Jack and Marco prepare an identification tag. The tag is inserted, a photo is taken and the shark is sent back on its way. It's out of the water for roughly five minutes.

"Obviously it stresses out the shark, it's not the best thing on the planet, but they have a very high survival rate with this," Sudal said.

Last year, the 25-year-old Sudal was shark fishing in 'Sconset when a photo was taken of him pulling a shark onshore by its tail. It wasn't long before his story went viral.

"I think it was the fact that, it's Nantucket first of all. It's popular in Florida, but not so much here, Shark Week was coming up and it was just a really epic photo," he said.

Sudal showed the photo to his boss at Nantucket Moorings, who insisted he submit it to The Inquirer and Mirror, which he did.

"I talked to (The Inquirer and Mirror) at noon, and by 12:45 I'm getting all these calls from blocked numbers, like 'this is Bill from CNN. We want you to comment on your story.' I went on 'Good Morning America,' 'Fox and Friends' and did about 80 radio interviews," Sudal said.

He was also contacted by six production companies for a TV show, finally settling on one and working with Brian Catalina, who has produced shows like "Deadliest Catch" and "Swamp People." Sudal can't go into details about the show until it airs, which he expects to happen by the end of the year on the National Geographic channel.

"I just sort of liked doing this recreationally until last year when this thing happened, and now I'm this poster child for shark fishing," he said.

Last year after his photo and story went viral, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration asked him to participate in its Cooperative Shark Tagging Program.

"They contacted me last year and said, 'you're getting a lot of media attention, you should try to steer this in the way of conservation,'" and Sudal agreed.

Even though Sudal, who has a degree in environmental science and biology from Central Connecticut State College and has worked with state and federal environmental officials, releases the sharks he catches from the shore he still gets tons of hate mail from shark advocates, he said.

"If you really wanted to get into it, 70-100 million sharks a year are killed for their fins worldwide," he said. "That's a National Geographic statistic. I definitely support whatever we can do to stop that, but I don't think recreational anglers are the ones doing harm (to the species)."

The tags Sudal receives from NOAA are numbered, so data is only collected if the sharks are caught a second time. Sudal said he has already caught 10 while on Nantucket and that the return rate is about 10 percent, so the odds are in his favor, but it might take a while. His goal is to eventually shift to radio tags.

"My dream with this whole thing is to start an organization where say a school wanted me to do a program on it," he said, adding that he could bring young people to the beach, put a radio tag on a shark and they could track it and learn where it's going, why it's moving and what it's eating. "But I don't know how to do that. I'm just a guy catching sharks right now."

©