Burkle Chronicles Volume I: Swimming with Bluesharks

The long days of June warm the ocean, bringing with it new residents both on land and in sea. Inshore groundfish such as fluke and striped bass take up residence on submerged structures while just-offshore sharks such as makos, threshers and blue sharks comb the deep ocean in search of food. Don’t worry — we humans are not on the menu. These sharks forage predominately on bluefish, juvenile tuna and mackerel.


Photo: Justin Burkle | @41degreesnorth

With the increasing number of predators just offshore Montauk, the end of June marks the two biggest shark tournaments: Star Island and Darrenberg’s. These tournaments are for big money, including large entry fees and Calcuttas (essentially side bets) with lots of money up for grabs. We used to compete in these tournaments but realized quickly its a rich man’s game.


Photo: Justin Burkle | @41degreesnorth

The day before Star Island’s Shark Tournament, I ventured out 20 miles South of Montauk in search of crossing paths with sharks. Our trip would differ a bit from the tournament fisherman’s trip as in I was only looking to capture images of the sharks and not the sharks themselves.


Photo: Justin Burkle | @41degreesnorth

Thomas Mamorowski and I set out at first light breaking the inlet and rounded the point, headed toward a predetermined destination. The anticipation built as we ventured further south and watched the bottom drop on the depth sounder. We pulled back the throttles when we spotted a concentration of shearwaters diving on bait. We marked the bait and deployed a trolling spread, only to be disappointed in finding that the fish corralling the bait were bluefish.


Photo: Justin Burkle | @41degreesnorth

On we went, looking for signs of life that signal a good place to start our chum-slick. Not long after, we spotted a pod of humpback whales and a few birds in the area. We deployed the chum-bucket, emitting a steady stream of ground-up fish and leaving a scent trail in the water column for the sharks to investigate.


Photo: Justin Burkle | @41degreesnorth

After a half hour, we had our first blue shark next to the boat. In the water I went with my underwater camera housing in hand. Sharing a moment with these creatures in their element was electrifying. The smooth lines of their body effortlessly swam around the boat, the electric blue hue of their body is breathtaking. Having swam with sharks before, I felt comfortable in the water and thought truly that they could sense my confidence.


Photo: Justin Burkle | @41degreesnorth

They came investigate me but moved on to investigate the boat and chum-bucket, which is of most interest since it contains the ground-up fish. One blue shark has a longline hook in its mouth and 10 foot leader hanging off the end. Blue sharks have no commercial value therefore they are cut off and released, and the hook will rust out over time. On this day only blue sharks were seen, but I look forward to crossing paths with other shark species on future trips.