FL officials blame shark death spike on fishermen

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SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Scientists at Mote Marine Laboratory are concerned about dead great hammerhead sharks that are washing ashore. They think that fishermen may be unintentionally killing them. 

In just the past few weeks, at least four great hammerhead sharks have washed ashore in Sarasota County.

Officials report one female shark had fishing gear on it, and a male shark was reported by an angler who caught it, released it, and later found it dead.RELATED: 5-year-old girl survives shark bite

Scientists at Mote Marine Lab say it is illegal to possess great hammerheads in Florida, but it is legal to catch and release them. Great hammerheads are protected by state law.

“This is a species that’s in a precarious state,” said Dr. Robert Hueter from Mote Marine Lab.

Hueter says hammerheads are being overfished and the numbers are dwindling.

Hammerheads are vulnerable to capture stress, especially during hot summer weather when there is less oxygen in the water.

“This is water doesn’t hold a lot of dissolved oxygen and so these sharks tire out very quickly,” said Hueter.

The scientist says ten to fifteen minutes of fighting on rod and reel can mean the death of the shark. He suggests that fishermen should release the shark as soon as it’s caught. And the shark should never leave the water.RELATED: Woman attacked by shark in Melbourne Beach

“If you know that you’ve got a hammerhead shark, a large hammerhead, please let it go as soon as you can. That may mean cutting the line. Don’t bother to get it all the way to the boat, I know everybody wants a picture and that’s important. But what’s more important- your picture or that that animal lives?” he added.

Even if the shark manages to swim away, it can still die later. “What they do is they swim out for a little ways then they end up conking out on the bottom, dying and then being washed in.”

Mote Marine researchers offer the following shark-friendly fishing tips to avoid harming these animals:

  • Anglers fishing for sharks should use heavy tackle to reduce fight times and always use non-stainless circle hooks to avoid gut-hooking and promote quick corrosion of the hook if left in the shark.
  • There are commercially available dehookers that allow removal of the hook, but sometimes just cutting the leader is the quickest, safest choice, as long as the hook is non-stainless. In particular, if you catch a hammerhead on a non-stainless hook, it is best to cut the leader as quickly as possible.
  • Shore-based anglers should not remove the shark from the water. Always leave the shark in enough water so that it can continue to breathe through its mouth and gills. Never drag a live shark onto the beach. Photos and videos are nice, but not at the expense of the shark’s life.
  • If a shark swims away after release, its survival is not guaranteed. Many sharks die within one to 12 hours. Releasing the shark quickly after hook-up is the best way to ensure its survival.

“We hope that the fishing public will kind of take this into consideration and not fight those fish too long,” said Hueter.

Officials also emphasize that when dead sharks wash ashore, the choice of possibly removing them is usually up to government agencies. Also, the carcasses allow researchers the opportunity for data collection.

So if you spot a dead shark, contact Mote Marine Lab or the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

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