An 11-foot hammerhead shark has washed up on a beach in South Florida, much to the surprise of beachgoers.
Visitors to Pompano Beach, north of Fort Lauderdale, found the shark’s carcass on April 6, according to Citizen Free Press affiliate WPLG.
A team of scientists from the American Shark Conservancy took samples and identified the shark as a female great hammerhead after removing the body from onlookers. Hannah Medd, a conservation scientist and founder of the American Shark Conservancy, told Citizen Free Press that she and her team measured the shark and took samples of its fin for DNA analysis and muscle tissue samples for biopsies. The female was pregnant and weighed about 500 pounds, she said.
The Nature Conservancy, which is licensed to sample protected species such as the hammerhead shark, was alerted to the animal by the Broward County Sea Turtle Conservation Program, which searches for turtle nests on beaches. A team member found the body with a hook in its mouth. This “specific type of hook generally indicates that someone was looking to target a large animal like a hammerhead shark,” Medd said.
“This species, in particular, is quite susceptible to stress,” he said.
Medd explained that a small community of recreational fishermen look for sharks to catch and release, which is legal in Florida, even though sharks cannot be caught. But the stress of being caught and then released, along with injuries from fishing hooks, can sometimes lead to death. “This happening is pretty rare,” Medd said. “We get maybe one to four calls a year [tiburones] that have stranded”.
She said her team has advocated for better catch-and-release practices, such as using stronger fishing gear, which reduces the “fight time” during which sharks fight fishermen. Less fighting time means less chance of injury or mortality. “These sharks are very good at fighting,” he said. “That’s why fishermen like to catch them, it’s exciting.”
He added that “because they’re banned, we usually can’t get samples, so in this case it was an unfortunate but good opportunity for us to learn more about a pretty important species.”
After the biologists took their samples, a nearby construction crew dug a hole and buried the shark on the beach, Medd said. Some bathers reacted to the dramatic image of the shark stranded on the shore. Medd said she saw some crying.
“You would never want to see an animal that large lying on the beach,” Pompano Beach resident Kevin Nosal said, according to WPLG. “This one is 11 feet long and weighs over 500 pounds. It’s a female, and it’s always sad when a female passes her.” Great hammerhead sharks are common in Florida’s coastal waters, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. They can reach a length of up to 18 feet (5.49 meters) and live more than 20 years. The fish are sometimes targeted by commercial longline fishermen for their fins, the commission says.
As predators, hammerhead sharks exert a major influence on ocean ecosystems, according to Medd. “They are just one very important piece of that food web that keeps our oceans healthy.”
“Even people who enjoy a day at the beach like to see healthy oceans and coastlines,” he said. “Sharks are really a part of it.”