Born in Florida, loves the water, fishing, surfing and has made a career as an amazing marine artist, Jason Mathias has spent a lifetime around the ocean and as a result has had some pretty crazy shark encounters of his own. You can see more of his work on his web studio.
Q:What’s the biggest shark you’ve ever caught?
A: I personally haven’t caught many sharks as I try not to target any shark species. I know their numbers are in decline and they’re a big part of the oceans food chain and need protecting. The biggest shark I’ve ever seen caught was a 700-pound hammerhead aboard my grandfathers charter boat the Do Stay out of Jupiter inlet FL.
Q:What’s the biggest you’ve seen?
A: The biggest shark I’ve ever seen was a 40-foot whale shark off the coast of the Abacos in the Bahamas. Swimming with them is a magnificent experience and I would highly recommend it if given the opportunity.
Q:Where have you seen the most sharks?
A: One time about ten years ago, along the Gulf Coast at Beer Can Beach on Longboat Key, I was standing at the end of a broken pier next to the inlet and saw over 500 bull sharks swim directly underneath me. They were all headed south, couldn’t get any of them to bite so they must have had other things on their minds. It looked like some kind of large migration.
Q:Have you ever been bitten?
A: Yes, I was bitten while filming underwater in the Florida Keys about 14 years ago where I came across a good sized nurse shark feeding on prey in the turtle grass. I decided to sneak up on the shark to get some cool underwater footage for a future painting, (little did I know I was about to capture my own shark attack on video). My video camera was weighted so I placed it in front of the sharks face on the bottom; I then swam around to the backside of the shark to get the shark and me on film together. I slowly hovered over the shark and decided to place my hands on the sharks back to make for a cool shot, as soon as I made contact with the shark he startled as he didn’t know I was there. Like a bolt of lightning the shark made a 180-degree turn and rushed me and latched down on my stomach. I immediately grabbed the shark’s body as soon as it bit me to try and pull it off. I hoped to lessen the shark’s ability for a second bite and prevent the shark from spinning into a death roll and ripping off a chunk of flesh. I was able to pull the shark off my stomach and the rash guard I was wearing saved me big time. But the shark’s teeth were now caught up in my rash guard. I was still forced to hold onto the shark with two hands or risk having the shark come in for another bite which took all of my strength as the shark felt like one giant muscle, all of this while trying not to be drowned. Mind you it was about 8-feet deep so swimming to the surface where I could breath while holding a shark wasn’t easy but I managed to make it back to the boat with the shark. I remember my mom saying,
Why does Jason have a shark attached to him?
I was able to swim up onto the dive platform where my dad could hold the shark down while my mom tried prying its mouth open with a metal tickle stick, which is used for catching lobster. It took us a good five minutes to get the shark to release its grip from my rash guard while I was bleeding all over the place. Keep in mind that a nurse shark has twice the bite force of a great white as its diet includes shellfish, which requires a lot of muscle to pry open the toughest of shells. I remember looking into its mouth and seeing that they do in fact have some nice sharp teeth, kind of like miniature tiger shark teeth. Anyways, I was happy it wasn’t a shark species with a larger mouth and teeth that could have done some real damage. I have a nice little scar now and a greater respect for nurse sharks, I don’t mess with them as much as I use to. Moral of the story here is don’t hug a shark cause he might hug you back and they have teeth instead of arms.
Q:What species would you call your favorite?
A: I would have to say that my favorite living shark species today would be the mako shark. The mako is the fastest shark in the ocean and one of the fastest fish on the planet. They can reach speeds up to 60 mph, which makes them impressive jumpers. They can also change the color of their skin when excited from a greyish color to a bright purple, which is pretty awesome to see! They also seem to have an intriguing frightening appearance with their big dark eyes and the quick agile movements of their gestures gives me a great respect for this particular shark. The mako also possesses one of the most awesome shark’s teeth there is to collect. I have many megalodon teeth in my collection but a giant, prehistoric, mako tooth is my favorite. You might also want to check out the hooked-tooth mako shark, which went extinct 10 million years ago.
Q:What is your least favorite shark?
A: I would say my least favorite shark would be the bull shark as they’re responsible for most of the shark attacks and fatalities around the world. They’re adapted to swim up rivers into freshwater and in the salty oceans, which brings them much closer to swimmers. They also have the highest levels of testosterone than any animal on the planet including the African elephant. This makes them one of the most aggressive creatures in the world, with a mouth full of sharp teeth and a thick muscular body allowing them to be very dangerous, mean and territorial.
Q:Please tell the story of your most memorable shark encounter?
A: This is a tough one as I’ve had many memorable shark encounters from a 10-foot spinner shark ripping through bait while leaping right over me on a surfboard; to having to kick a shark in the head that was charging me while free diving. I’ve had some of my close friends bitten while surfing and I’ve seen strange shark behaviors such as hundreds of jumping sharks, which seemed to be enjoying the rising of a super-moon over the ocean. But the encounter which stands out the most would have to be when I was attacked by an extremely large bull shark while surfing off the coast of Fort Pierce about fifteen years ago. I remember it was a beautiful morning about 8 am and not a soul on the beach when my friends and I were about to paddle out for a nice surf session. It was in the winter months so my friends asked me to test the water to see if we needed to put wetsuits on. So I ran down to the shoreline with my board, put a toe in the water and then a foot when I decided it wasn’t too cold, so I leaped into the ocean and began paddling out. I duck dove through a few waves on the inside and was almost out past the breakers when it became extremely still and I thought to myself, “wow is it glassy, still and peaceful” but little did I know that was all about to change as I was unknowingly being stalked by an apex predator from below. My peaceful experience dramatically came to an abrupt end when an overwhelming force from beneath engulfed me. The ocean opened up and exploded from beneath while at the same time I was being slammed into with the force of a speeding freight train. Next thing I knew I was in the air looking down from a birds eye view at a massive shark with a hefty girth an impressive fin. Panic quickly set in realizing what had just happened falling back into the water and quickly clenching onto my board in a desperate attempt for protection between the shark and I. I lifted both feet into the air and paddled as fast as I could in the direction of the beach, unfortunately it was in-between sets so there were no waves to catch in which made me feel vulnerable and open to another attack; like a flopping baitfish adverted from the surface. I thought for sure the shark would charge me again, but hope of escape began to fill me as I approached the beach. At last, the beach reached out and saved me with its dry shallow barrier as I kneeled down and kissed its sandy surface. An overwhelming feeling of relief and disbelief filled my mind, but was quickly interrupted as I came back to reality realizing my friends were putting their wetsuits on and about to paddle out. I screamed, “don’t go in the water, I was just attacked by a huge bull shark”! My friend Bo chuckled and said, “So that’s why you were paddling back in so fast, we had thought dang that water must be freezing, look at Jason haul ass back in we had better put our wetsuits on”! My other friend Brendon, which we later lost in a combat helicopter crash fighting in the Afghanistan war, was standing on the beach and saw the whole thing. He told me he saw a huge splash as I went flying next to a huge shark fin. Luckily I wasn’t bitten but received a nice rash on my right arm where the rough skin of the shark slammed into me. Anyways, we all had a laugh about it and paddled out at another more populated beach where I put my wetsuit on not because it was cold but in case another shark tried to mistake me for lunch.