FORT PIERCE, Fla. -- The rash of great white shark encounters in the Pacific Ocean, now has reached the Atlantic Ocean off the Treasure Coast.
Over the weekend, a group of four divers competing in the Fort Pierce Open spearfishing tournament had a rare encounter of their own with a great white shark - one of the sea's most feared predators.
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At 6:30 a.m. Saturday, Steve Maldonado, of Palm Bay, and three of his friends were about to enter the water in 130 feet northeast of Fort Pierce Inlet.
One diver jumped in with his speargun, and immediately saw a large shadow out of the corner of his eye, wheeled around and drew his gun for protection. He then slowly back-pedaled his way to the safety of the boat and scrambled on board.
The divers were using chum and noticed the large shark would not leave. They also tossed in a large chunk of fish to keep the shark close so they could video the fish that is rarely seen in waters this far to the south.
They estimated it to be about 12 to 14 feet in length.
Great white sharks are considered very rare in Florida waters, however, there have been occasional sightings and catches numbering about one to two per year between Miami and Cape Canaveral.
Last year in late June, a Sebastian commercial spearfishing diver observed one and captured it on video with a GoPro camera.
Capt. Tris Colket, skipper of the charter fishing boat Last Mango out of Fort Pierce City Marina, was a former commercial shark fisherman off Daytona Beach and said he would occasionally catch and release them in the waters of the Gulf Stream - 25 miles off the coast.
In Florida, great white sharks are among 22 species of sharks that are prohibited from harvest in state waters.
Biologist Grant Gilmore of Vero Beach has said that great whites typically feed on fish and mammal species not found in subtropical waters of the globe. However, they could use the Gulf Stream and other currents as a way to travel large distances while in pursuit of food.
Maldonado posted video and screen capture of his encounter on Spearboard.com in the Eastern Florida section of the forum and on his Facebook page.