Image: Chris Whitehead

VIDEO: Close Encounter with Great White Shark off Ocean City

Ocean City fishing charter captain Mark Sampson and the guests and crew of Fish Finder got the trip of a lifetime on Monday when a massive great white shark came right up to the boat.

Sampson, who has been shark fishing for more than 40 years, says he sees white sharks one or two times a year, but this one “absolutely dwarfed” anything he’s seen before.

Sampson, his first mate and five clients were fishing and doing some scientific research about 32 miles off the coast of Ocean City, Maryland. The day’s goal was to catch Mako sharks to tag the with GPS tracking tags. Sampson said they’d had no like with Makos but plenty of other sharks had been swimming around the boat.

He tells Bay Bulletin the group was down to the “two-minute warning,” getting ready to head home when the sighting came. They had hooked a hammerhead shark and were in the process of releasing it when, as Sampson puts it, “Holy cow, look what’s coming in.”

That’s when everyone pulled out their cell phone cameras. Clients Steven White and Chris Whitehead caught clear images of the predator right alongside the 40-foot Fish Finder. Watch below:

Video: Steve White

Sampson estimates the shark was “minimum 15 feet long” and weighed 3,000 to 4,000 pounds. “Its girth was just tremendous. It’s like looking at a school bus swimming around under the boat.”

The shark, seeming curious, swam quite close around the boat for about 10 to 15 minutes. When the crew held out a bundle of tuna carcasses they’d been using as chum, they got the closest look of all. “Don’t bite the boat!” one of the guests can be heard exclaiming in the video.

Sampson and his first mate pulled the remaining lines out of the water, thinking, We definitely don’t need this on the line. We’re not going to mess with it and hopefully it doesn’t mess with us.

The shark swam away without incident, and Sampson says all seven people on board agreed they’ll remember that day for the rest of their lives.

“It’s the largest toothy shark I’ve ever seen in person–ever,” says Sampson.

Chesapeake Bay Magazine featured Captain Mark Sampson in the April 2020 cover story “The Shark Whisperer.” Read more about his work in shark research.

-Meg Walburn Viviano