10 Of The Biggest Sharks Ever Caught

Sharks are the ocean's most dangerous and elusive predators, but — despite their cageyness — often end up on the wrong side of a fisherman's rod, both on purpose and by accident. Modern sharks top the ocean's food chain, but pale in comparison to what lurked under the surface millions of years ago.

The giant, menacing megalodon was a distant and much bigger ancestor of the great white shark. The megalodon was a vicious, transoceanic terror estimated to have been the size and weight of a railroad car — roughly 50 to 65 feet long. Scant physical evidence of the megalodon exists today — scientists believe it was a cartilaginous fish, and soft cartilage doesn't fossilize as well as bone. Still, 6.5-inch megalodon teeth survive (a great white's teeth are roughly half the size), which made quick work of Orca-sized fish in just a few bites. Megalodons have been extinct for roughly 3.5 million years, but their legend lives on.

Great white sharks are the biggest ocean predators today but are, on average, between 11 and 16 feet long. One of the most controversial great white catches reportedly occurred off Cuba in 1945. "El Monstruo" was allegedly a 7,000-pound, 21-foot behemoth of a shark, but debate surrounds it. The International Game Fish Association, which catalogs shark catches, does not list El Monstruo as the world's largest-ever shark catch, even if the Discovery Channel claims to have confirmed it. El Monstruo aside, here are the 10 biggest confirmed shark catches on record.

Shortfin mako shark - Chatham, Massachusetts, 2001

A shark fishing competition off Chatham, Massachusetts, in July 2001 yielded one of the largest shark catches in history — a 1,221-pound shortfin mako shark. Angler Luke Sweeney made the catch, and it took him nearly three hours to haul the shark onto his boat (which happened to be the smallest boat out of all the competitors that day).

Sweeney catching his huge mako shark off Massachusetts shouldn't come as a surprise — the waters 90 to 100 miles off the Massachusetts coast are known as shark hotspots. The area's large population of gray seals — a shark delicacy — attracts these predators to the area. And while sharks abound, dangerous interactions, while possible, are extremely rare — there has been one recorded human fatality off Massachusetts due to a shark since 1936.

Shortfin mako sharks are known as one of the fastest species of shark in the ocean. They can grow to 12 feet in length, and usually weigh about 1,200 pounds, making Sweeney's 2001 catch larger than usual.

Thresher shark - Cornwall, England, 2007

Commercial fishing captain Roger Nowell surely didn't expect to find "fame by shark" trawling the English Channel near Cornwall in the fall of 2007 — but that's exactly what happened. Nowell was hunting for squid, but when he brought his net to the surface, a 32-foot thresher shark was a part of his haul. Nowell's thresher shark weighed 1,250 pounds, breaking the previous thresher shark record of 953 pounds — caught off Hawaii — by a wide margin.

Thresher sharks are known to lurk in U.K. waters, but usually during the summer when the waters are warmest. Nowell catching his thresher shark during the fall was exceptionally rare. Also rare was the thresher's 32-foot length, as thresher sharks usually run to about 20 feet long, with their long tails making up half their length. Thresher sharks use those long tails to whip and stun their prey, making them easy pickings. Thresher sharks don't exactly capture the imagination the way great whites or mako sharks might. The long-tailed threshers, while predatory, are not known to attack humans.

Great hammerhead shark - Port Charlotte, Florida, 2006

Captain Bucky Dennis was definitely hunting for sharks, leading him to snare a record-setting 14.5-foot, 1,280-pound great hammerhead shark by rod off the coast of Port Charlotte, Florida in May 2006. Getting the hammerhead out of the water was no walk in the park, let alone a walk on water. Dennis needed the help of several nearby fishermen to haul the hammerhead out of the water after a grueling battle. Dennis' victory came after the hammerhead, attracted by a stingray used as bait, dragged his 23-foot boat for nearly 12 miles, for six hours, before succumbing.

The hammerhead was pregnant and likely between 20 to 40 years old, and significantly bigger than the previous hammerhead record, a 990-pound fish caught off Sarasota, Florida. Hammerheads range in size between 12 and 18 feet long, and they tend to travel in packs. Great hammerheads are known to populate the warmer waters of the Gulf of Mexico, where Dennis caught his shark.

Sixgill shark - Ascension Island (British Overseas Territories), 2002

Englishman Clemens Rump made headlines in the fishing world in November 2002 when he caught a 1,298-pound Sixgill Shark off Ascension Island, part of the British Overseas Territories, in the South Atlantic Ocean. If you're wondering where Ascension Island is, it's likely "very far away" from wherever you're reading this. Ascension Island lies between South America and Africa. While it's not too surprising Rump hauled his sixgill out of the water in this part of the world, sixgill sharks are not surface dwellers. In fact, they are known to swim in very deep, cold waters, and human encounters are very uncommon.

While Rump's sixgill shark is the largest of this type of shark ever caught, there may be far bigger sixgills lurking. While scientists say sixgill sharks weigh, on average, about 1,100 pounds, scientists believe sixgill sharks are swimming around weighing about 2,200 pounds. Unlike most other species of shark, the sixgill shark has just one dorsal fin (as opposed to two), with its lone fin located at the back of its body.

Shortfin mako shark - Huntington Beach, California, 2013

The biggest shortfin mako shark ever caught was nabbed by Texas fisherman Jason Johnston off Huntington Beach, California (one of the places you'll most likely be attacked by a shark) in June 2013. As Johnston filmed an Outdoor Channel reality television show, the 1,320-pound shark gave Johnston and his crew quite the fight, dragging them a quarter mile for two hours before the anglers were able to pull the shark out of the water. Mako sharks are very aggressive, with one of the Outdoor Channel hosts who witnessed the catch telling the Los Angeles Times that mako sharks are akin to "a giant nightmare swimming around."

Not only are mako sharks aggressive, they are fast, reaching speeds up to 31 miles per hour while cruising, and up to 47 miles per hour in short bursts. Makos are not generally known to prey on humans, but they will attack if provoked. Makos have been known to attack boats if they are snared on a line. This record-setting mako caught off the coast of California was donated to a research facility to be studied.

Greenland shark - Trondheim Fjord, Norway, 1987

Imagine the shock on Norwegian fisherman Terje Nordvedt's face when, in October 1987, he reeled in a 1,708-pound Greenland shark (the largest Greenland shark ever caught) in Norway's Trondheim Fjord (a short drive from one of the 20 coldest cities in the world) using herring as bait. While Nordvedt's shark is the largest of its kind to have been caught, Greenland sharks can weigh more than 2,000 pounds.

When Nordvedt caught his shark, very little was known about this type of shark. In fact, Greenland sharks were only captured on film for the first time in 2003 — 16 years after Nordvedt hooked the biggest Greenland shark caught to date. Encounters with humans are so rare because Greenland sharks tend to live thousands of feet deep in very cold waters, typically in the Arctic and North Atlantic Oceans, as well as the Bering Sea.

Greenland sharks are considered the world's oldest living vertebrates, with an average lifespan of 272 years. With a top cruising speed of just 1.9 miles per hour, scientists believe the oldest Greenland sharks to be around 500 years old — a long time to be wandering the ocean depths. While carnivorous, Greenland sharks are not considered to be dangerous to humans, as encounters are so unlikely. The last (possible) Greenland shark attack on a human is traced back to 1859.

Tiger shark - Ulladulla, Australia, 2004

Australian fisherman Kevin J. Clapson caught the world's largest tiger shark, weighing in at 1,785 pounds and 11 ounces, in a fishing competition off Ulladulla, which sits about three hours south of Sydney on Australia's east coast. Clapson's catch tied a previous tiger shark record, set in 1964 after angler Walter Maxwell caught a tiger shark following an hours-long battle off Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Maxwell's Tiger was actually 11 ounces lighter than Clapson's, but since the difference was so small, Clapson was ruled to have tied the tiger shark record, as opposed to breaking it.

While both Clapson and Maxwell's tiger sharks were huge, there are bigger ones out there, as tigers are known to reach 18 feet in length and weigh more than 2,000 pounds. Tiger sharks get their name from the vertical stripes on the sides of their bodies. This type of shark is very aggressive and is known as a coastal predator, lurking beneath tropical and temperate waters around the world. Along with bull sharks and great white sharks, tiger sharks are considered the most likely shark species to attack humans — that said, tiger shark attacks are very rare.

Great white shark - Prince Edward Island, Canada, 1983

As 22-year-old fisherman David McKendrick scoured the Atlantic Ocean just off Prince Edward Island, Canada (a perfect destination for outdoor adventures) in the summer of 1983, he was hoping to score a large tuna haul — not a 20-foot-long great white shark. But when he pulled his net up, McKendrick and his crew were shocked to see a dead, massive shark tangled up in their net. McKendrick told the Toronto Star that he thinks the shark was trying to steal his catch before getting caught up in the net.

The Bedford Institute of Oceanography, a Canadian Government research facility based in nearby Nova Scotia, told The Star that McKendrick's accidental catch was likely the biggest shark ever caught in Canadian waters, though its weight wasn't determined. Adding to the novelty is that great white shark sightings (let alone catches) are extremely rare in the waters off Canada's east coast — the Canadian Shark Research Laboratory estimates there have been just 34 great white shark sightings in the area over the past 140 years.

The Prince Edward Island great white was estimated to be about 19 years old, a teenaged shark. Scientists believe McKendrick's accidental catch would have lived to between 60 and 80 years old if it hadn't been caught. While great white shark sightings are rare in these waters, that doesn't mean they aren't there. In fact, researchers say great whites play a key role in regulating the ecosystem of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Great white shark - Ceduna, Australia, 1959

According to the International Game Fish Association, Australian angler Alfred Dean caught the largest great white shark on record, a 2,664-pound beast off the coast of Ceduna, Australia. Remarkably, it took just 70 minutes for Dean and his crew to capture the great white by rod and reel while using a porpoise as bait. Amazingly, this wasn't the first 2,000-pound-plus great white Dean had caught — he snared a 2,333-pound great white off Streaky Bay, Australia, in 1952. He also caught a 2,372-pound great white before landing his biggest catch in 1959. If you're interested in seeing a great white shark, the best place to do so is around Australia. In fact, New Zealand is known as one of the best places to safely come face to face with a great white shark.

The fact that Dean caught three of these giant sharks is astounding. Great whites are the ocean's top predator, with a fearsome set of 300 teeth used to rip prey into bite-size chunks. These sharks don't chew their food — they swallow it whole. Amazingly, Dean's great white sharks may not be close in size to the biggest great white sharks lurking in the world's oceans. According to the World Wildlife Fund, great whites can grow to between 4,000 and 7,000 pounds. Even if the IGFA doesn't include the aforementioned El Monstruo in its records as the largest shark ever caught, these massive beasts may indeed be out there.

Great white shark - Montauk, New York, 1964

The International Fish Game Association does not count the 4,500-pound great white shark caught off Montauk, New York, in June 1964 as a world record, due to how it was caught. Shark hunter Frank Mundus caught the great white by harpooning it multiple times — the IGFA only considers sharks caught by rod and reel or fishing nets to be considered for catch records. Another disqualifying fact — Mundus nabbed his shark in an area with a whale carcass, with sharks already circling.

Mundus might not be considered the world record holder for the biggest shark ever caught, but he became legendary all the same. After the 1964 catch, Mundus took writer Peter Benchley out on multiple shark-hunting trips. Benchley went on to write the novel "Jaws," which of course was followed by Steven Spielberg's classic 1975 film of the same name. Mundus claimed he was the inspiration for the shark hunter Quint, legendarily depicted by actor Robert Shaw in the film "Jaws." Benchley said the character was a composite of multiple figures, which bothered Mundus. That said, Mundus can make a claim that Benchley's character Quint could not — the Long Island fisherman survived all of his encounters with great white sharks. Quint, as we all know, did not.