David Torres of Shalimar said he was not fazed by the approaching boat’s warning – “Shark!”
His family has seen many sharks in the waters of Gulf County, where they have been coming to scallop for more than a decade, and he had never heard of any shark attacks in the area.
But the next sentence from the other vessel caught his attention.
“I think it has a rope attached to it.”
Torres decided his best course of action would be to get closer and inspect the scene. Luckily, he said, the family’s fishing boat was well-equipped after a day of scalloping. Within a few minutes, he had managed to position his boat, hook the rope and cut the six-foot nurse shark loose.
“We were able to set it free, it seemed happy and swam off after biting my trolling motor,” Torres said. "Looked like it was gonna be good to go once its cuts healed up, so we're happy about that.”
A video taken by Torres’ wife, Kelly, showing the experience has received over 223,000 views and 1,700 shares since being posted on Facebook last Tuesday.
It was clear, Torres said, that the shark had been tangled up for quite some time. The 15-to-20-foot, barnacle-encrusted rope hung around the shark’s neck like a lasso and had left significant cuts on the animal’s pectoral fins. The scalloper thought the shark might have been entangled by fishers since there were hooks and 100-pound leader caught in the rope.
“I was just kind of perturbed,” he said. “I don't have a problem with people going out there and catching sharks and even tail roping them as long as they're gonna get the shark unhooked and get the tail rope off of them and let them go.”
Hook and line fishing is the only permitted way to catch a shark in Florida waters, according to Amanda Nalley, a public information specialist at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. But there is no Florida law prohibiting the use of ropes to secure a non-protected species of shark caught in a legal manner.
It is common for fishers to use ropes to secure a shark once they have reeled it in. However, usually fishers will try to lasso a shark’s tail.
Nalley said it was certainly possible that the shark had been tangled in a fishing incident, but that there might be other explanations. “He could have swam into something, you know, like a rope that was fallen overboard.”
Nevertheless, she said that Torres should be commended for freeing the animal.
Many of the viral video’s hundreds of comments offer praise to Torres and his family for stepping in to help, calling the man a hero. While Torres said he appreciated the positivity, he did not feel as though he had done anything heroic.
“There's a lot of heroes, especially with everything going on in the world, or halfway across the world right now,” he said. “If you're going to direct that hero stuff, direct it towards them, not some goofball with a mullet untangling sharks.”