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Huge monster drowned by the net

PAPEÉTE, Tahiti (Tahitipresse, Feb. 21, 2009) - Thursday was supposed to have been a routine day of fishing for starfish for the two Parker brothers off Teahupoo, the world famous surfing site next to Tahiti’s peninsula.

But catching starfish, no matter how meritorious the gesture, doesn’t make headlines. And that’s exactly what the Parker brothers did Friday. Both of Tahiti’s French language daily newspapers carried a front-page story about Didier and Gérard Parker and a photo of their impressive catch -- a 1.29-ton tiger shark.

Their day began as part of a campaign to collect as many starfish as possible to help protect the coral reef because these creatures, known in Tahitian as Taramea, love to eat coral polyps.

On this particular day, Didier and Gérard were joined by Mannix, the president of the Teahupoo Fishermen’s Cooperative, as they dove underwater near the coral reef to inspect their catch of starfish.

Earlier they had thrown a fish net with some attached empty fish hooks into the water, hoping to catch something else to take back home that night. Little did they realize what they would end up with.

As Didier began pulling up the fish net, the weight made him think, "It’s a swordfish." But two meters from the surface, the swordfish became a shark, but not just any shark. It was a tiger shark. They didn’t have to battle the shark because it had become trapped in the fish net and had drowned.

In the shark family, the tiger shark is the second largest predatory shark after the great white shark. A mature tiger shark averages 3.25 to 4.25 meters (11 to 14 feet) in length and weighs 385 to 909 kilograms (850 to 2,000 pounds).

The Parkers had caught themselves a very mature tiger shark. After taking 2.5 hours to bring the shark up, they could only estimate its weight -- maybe a good 500 kilos. That was a bit off. When they found the proper scales Friday, they discovered the shark weighed in at 1.29 tons. It measured four meters in length.

That may send shivers up and down the spines of professional surfers all over the world who aren’t exactly used to thinking they might run into Jaws at Teahupoo.

"I live in front of the pass," Gérard Parker said, referring to the pass through the coral reef where championship surfers compete each year in the Air Tahiti Nui-Von Zipper Trials and then the Billabong Pro Teahupoo.

"I often fish and go diving with my brother Didier and my son," Parker said. "When you encounter a tiger shark of that magnitude when diving you take refuge in the gaps in the reef and let it go by.

"Usually, tiger sharks attack our catches, especially tuna, and never an empty fish hook like this time," Parker said. "Either they are hungry or they have proliferated since fishing them is prohibited."

The tiger shark brought up by the Parker brothers was turned over for analysis to Ifremer, the French Institute of Marine Resources Research and Cultivation, and Moorea’s international research center, known as CRIOBE, which stands for Island Research and Environment Observatory Center.

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