TODAY   |  August 05, 2013

Biologists tag shark to learn about fish with a bad rap

Ever since “Jaws” became a blockbuster hit, sharks have been demonized, but attitudes are beginning to change as scientists work to learn more about the creatures and shark fishing tournaments convert to catch-and-release format. NBC’s Kerry Sanders reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> meantime, the iconic movie "jaws" created a generation of people desperately afraid of sharks and nearly 40 years later attitudes are only now beginning to change. kerry sanders ask in montauk , new york on the eastern tip of long island. good morning to you.

>> good morning. the largest shark ever caught was caught right here off of montauk . 3,427 pounds. that's bigger than the average nascar race car. you can see a mock of it over there. this is the birth place of monster shark fishing. this is why jaws like these are quite common here but here for the first time, they're not just catching the sharks, they're releasing them.

>> reporter: 175 pound shark hooked in the atlantic waters off of montauk . but the trophy photo of the monster catches here maybe a thing of the past. in part, because the pose on the dock is giving way to a reality. evidence show there is are fewer sharks today than ever. 20 years ago, captains say they catch up to 30 a day in these waters. a week ago in this tournament fishermen caught on average only three a day.

>> want to tag it?

>> reporter: the coastlines are beginning to calculate shark populations. they don't know how much they once we are. just that catches reveal there's fewer. it's why for the first time in montauk , this tournament was catch and release .

>> why did you release it?

>> got to have them out there to make more.

>> reporter: in the man versus shark wars, that is no small shift in attitude. the movie jaws established this predator as the enemy, to be killed. unlike the traditional shark fishermen here they're using a circle hook . it doesn't rip the guts of the shark . rather it catches it right there so when they release it, more likely to live.

>> beautiful fish. normally this shark would be killed to eat and we're going to learn from her.

>> reporter: learn from her because here marine biologists are along for the ride.

>> she's breathing fine.

>> reporter: attaching satellite tags where the shark has no sensation. the fishermen nicknamed this tag shark princess.

>> you're going to track her?

>> absolutely.

>> you want to know where she goes.

>> we're the first to put on tag on her. we made history today .

>> reporter: this catch and release tournament out of the montauk marine basin was with a purse. they always have money at the end of the tournaments. the guy harvey ocean foundation gave 10,000 to the winner. but most have purses of $100,000. so catch and release is in the infancy.

>> but it's a start. the scientists started tracking princess on july 30th . about 35 miles off the coast of montauk . this is the track she has taken since they started monitoring her. she is headed to bermuda.

>> can you blame her?

>> they're going to use that information to better understand migration patterns and survival rates.