Record-Breaking Hammerhead Catches Deadly, Possibly Illegal, Says Marine Biologist

Categories: Environmental

hammerheadscreenshot.jpg.jpg
A screenshot of the video showing a hammerhead being pulled onto shore and measured.
Last week a local 21-year-old made international headlines for snagging a 13-foot hammerhead while fishing off the pier at Lauderdale-by-the-Sea. After his friend's line bent hard and the huge fish was pulled in closer, Ryan Bolash dragged the shark onto a beach full of stunned onlookers.

"It was flailing around, everything like that," one witness later said. "It was really cool."

The famous snag was only the latest in a spate of recent high-profile hammerhead catches. But according to one marine biologist, the sharks' lives were in danger and the fishermen were probably breaking the law.

In March a group of Florida Atlantic University students made headlines when they caught a 14-foot, estimated 700-pound hammerhead (and posted a YouTube video of the ordeal, now viewed more than a million times), and in February a man was featured on local television after winning a South Florida fishing tournament with his hammerhead catch.

All the fishermen expressed concern for the animals' well-being and released the sharks. "They're an amazing creature," Bolash said. "I don't know why anyone would want to hurt them."

But the fishers also struggled for an hour or more with the animals to reel them in -- hammerheads are renowned fighters -- and took photos and measurements before releasing the sharks. Keeping the animals on land even for a few minutes can prove fatal, says a University of Miami marine biologist. And thanks to a 2012 law aimed at protecting the species -- which is endangered -- it's also illegal.

"Think about if we were holding your head underwater for several minutes while scuba divers were taking a picture," says David Shiffman, the biologist. "You're not adapted to survive in that world."

Of shark species, Shiffman says, hammerheads have among the highest stress responses to being caught. They fight instantly and vigorously, which makes the shark popular with fishermen looking for an adrenaline rush. But it also means hammerheads are more likely to die from the stress and fatigue of a protracted battle with a fishing line, even if they're released promptly once they're finally reeled in.

Shiffman is particularly miffed at those who brag of hours-long "epic fights" to bring in the hammerheads. "The 'fight' is the animal literally trying not to die," he says. "[It's] putting every bit of energy it has into not being killed."

There's no reliable hammerhead count available, Shiffman says, but he estimates the shark's population has declined by as much as 90 percent since the 1970s. In 2012 the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission passed a regulation prohibiting the killing of three varieties, including the great hammerhead, the largest. But the law also prohibits "landing" of the sharks, meaning it's illegal to bring them ashore unless they are "immediately returned to the water free, alive, and unharmed."

Keeping the hammerheads on the beach to measure them or pose for a picture, Shiffman contends, means the animals aren't being immediately released, and the stressful fight to reel them in means they're not left unharmed.

The biologist estimates that in recent years hundreds of hammerheads have been pulled ashore, often during the night or in unpopulated areas where the practice can go unnoticed.

"'Oh yeah, of course we released it. We don't want to hurt the animals,'" he said, mimicking the fishermen's typical response. "But they're using illegal actions that hurt the animals. Their heart's in the right place, but their actions need to match it."

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37 comments
info3917
info3917

 "In 2012 the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission passed a regulation prohibiting the killing of three varieties, including the great hammerhead, the largest. But the law also prohibits "landing" of the sharks, meaning it's illegal to bring them ashore unless they are "immediately returned to the water free, alive, and unharmed."


What the article nor David Schiffman mention is the fact that boat anglers out in federal waters such as charter boat captains taking tourist out for money can continue to kill Hammerheads and Tiger sharks while us on land are discriminated against is that fair to us.We do everything possible to assure theses hammerhead sharks we catch are quickly released back into the wild,we cooperate with NOAA Apex Predator Tagging Program by providing valuable information and yet we are the target of David Schiffman and his ill intentioned bunch that want to further restrict our fishing rights;guess what David you cannot and will not get rid of us.


William Fundora -President South Florida Shark Club

info3917
info3917

"In 2012 the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission passed a regulation prohibiting the killing of three varieties, including the great hammerhead, the largest. But the law also prohibits "landing" of the sharks, meaning it's illegal to bring them ashore unless they are "immediately returned to the water free, alive, and unharmed."


What the article nor David Schiffman mention is the fact that boat anglers out in federal waters such as charter boat captains taking tourist out for money can continue to kill Hammerheads and Tiger sharks while us on land are discriminated against is that fair to us.We do everything possible to assure theses hammerhead sharks we catch are quickly released back into the wild,we cooperate with NOAA Apex Predator Tagging Program by providing valuable information and yet we are the target of David Schiffman and his ill intentioned bunch that want to further restrict our fishing rights;guess what David you cannot and will not get rid of us.


William Fundora -President South Florida Shark Club

mattyelvins
mattyelvins

what an idiot firstly you cant control what will take your bait and secondly would he rather that shark have a few meters of line and wire hanging from its mouth only to get wrapped around something and die from suffication? bloody idiot greenies there as bad there as they are here.

lkillalea
lkillalea

Legal protections for these sharks are in place for a reason, and it is our responsibility to understand and respect this. As Shiffman cites, The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission clearly states, "When a fish isn't allowed to be harvested, it must immediately be returned to the water free, alive, and unharmed." There is simply no way to argue that dragging these Hammerheads onto shore and putting them through excessive and sometimes fatal stress is in keeping with these regulations. 

kmkullberg
kmkullberg

Well said. It is not 'cool' or 'macho' to harm any animal for a photo op. Hammerhead sharks are critical to our marine ecosystem and need to be protected, or (as the author mentions) released immediately if accidentally caught, not reeled in for folks to gawk at.

sinend.ta
sinend.ta

Maybe the better idea is to get the sharks a representative. I can recall knowing nothing about crocodiles and thinking if they aren't endangered, they should be removed in any way possible - but then I started watching Steve Irwin (no, not as a child, as an adult, because I enjoy learning things). I would never have known the importance of the animal's presence in the ecosystem. I also had no idea the toll it takes on a reptile to struggle for a long period of time, and while it's in a different way, the same is true for sharks. Recreational fishermen should know that what they are doing might be killing the sharks they reel in, and all the measurements and photos they take can be useless for an animal they killed accidentally.


David, let's see you in a "The Shark Hunter" but with a better name series!

adi.customs
adi.customs

David Shiffman is out of touch with reality! Most of these shark anglers tag for NOAA's Apex Predator Program. They need total, fork and girth measurements. It takes less than a minute to get the measurements! Shark angling today raises a lot of awareness for the sustainability of shark species since the general attitudes have shifted to conservation! I study bull sharks and I also do the field work of catching them for DNA sequencing. The University of Miami should learn to work with shark anglers instead of trying to attach themselves to this sharks publicity for attention by playing with the emotions of peoples good will. The force of us biologists can only go so far to raise awareness for shark populations, the headlines of big sharks being caught and released should not be condemned! It should be congratulated!

reelemin
reelemin

have a meeting with all the hammerheads to tell them to stop biting our lines..we cant control what fish we reel in..sorry fishing isnt illegal

Ivete Mendoza
Ivete Mendoza

If u catch it without the permit release it back into the ocean

JTruda
JTruda

It´s time for the FL media to stop glorifying these IDIOTS who kill endangered hammerhead sharks for their stupid "sport". And for the authorities to DO something about these illegal catches! The US has absolutely no excuse for destroying shared shark populations which generate jobs and income in Caribbean countries through diving and Ecotourism. Enough!

Ed Ochoa
Ed Ochoa

So what are you supposed to do if you have something on the line and do not know what it is, also you do have to reel them in in order to at least try and cut the line as close as possible to the sharks mouth otherwise the line will most likely get tangled on the shark and it will also eventually die

richard509
richard509

@kmkullberg What did you have for dinner last night?  I'm sure that animal would rather trade places with the shark that was released... just sayin.

rainey59
rainey59

@adi.customs  sorry adi.customs,are you for real mate,the first story clearly states,that poor hammerhead was flailing for over an hour,(which in itself is detrimental to the shark)it was a 21 year old that landed it(finally) clearly not an expert on handling sharks,sorry mate,but any decent marine biologist,would not handle a shark in that manner.Stopping for photos with the shark,as for measuring it,that obviously for a record catch & some 5 minute fame in Miami New Times,another big fail,shame on you Miami New times,for trying to discredit David Shiffman,a marine biologist,(who unlike these lads) is genuinely concerned for the care & well being of this hammerhead! Now,as for the second video,are you gruddy kidding me mate? Clearly,they are NOT professional shark handlers,they just wanted to land the hammerhead & have a photo moment,to show off to their friends,IF they were sincere,they would NOT have tried to land this shark,nor would they have a girl in the background screaming like a school girl.Last,but definitely MOST Importantly,the handling of the shark,trying to get it back into the water with care,is Atrocious!  They are flipping it on it's side n back,pulling on it's fins n head,dragging it backwards...OMG....they are lucky this shark survived,(If in fact it did,just because it swam off,who knows)anyone,who knows ANYTHING about sharks,KNOW you DO NOT,swim a shark backwards,so again,I 100% Agree with David Shiffman's take on this unprofessional/irresponsible behaviour,& for you to try & defend it,makes me wonder,if you actually know what a minute is,certainly not in these two articles,if you are fine with these angler's handling,maybe you're in the wrong profession,our marine life NEED EVERY precious second to be back in the water,in fact,these measurements etc,can mostly be done in the water,if you are NOT a fully qualified professional yet,maybe you should wait until you are! Again,Disappointed in the Miami New Times for talking up anglers,against qualified marine biologists! Disgraceful!

david.shiffman
david.shiffman

That is not correct. There are not recreational fishing permits for targeting and killing Endangered species. 

rainey59
rainey59

IF you happen to snag one,sure,reel it in,but keep it in enough water,then cut n release it,or,simply cut the line & lose your tackle ;)

david.shiffman
david.shiffman

It is absolutely NOT necessary (and is borderline illegal) to drag the shark out of the water fully onto the beach to remove a hook. It is definitely illegal if while doing this, you also measure the shark and pose for photos.


Dragging some line behind a hook is not great for a shark (or any fish), but being dragged out of the water in order to remove that hook is significantly worse. 

mattyelvins
mattyelvins

@rainey59 @adi.customs  ok rainey i dare you to get up close and personal with the snapping end how long do you you think your limbs will last? that shark was given the best care a land based angler can possibly give its not like there in a boat. What does a girl behind the camera have to do with the handling of sharks? would you prefer the shark be swiming around with a few meters of wire and line from its mouth only to have it get caught on something and kill it? from what i could tell the shark never left the water. the have action would keep it alive for a long enough time to get a couple of photos. 


You clearly cant handle the fact that the blokes where successful, You clearly are a greenie who calls rec fisherman rapists and worse and know nothing of land based gamefishing so please shut up rainey59 

wcolton1
wcolton1

@rainey59 @adi.customs  - adi.customs is right on. I am the captain of a shark fishing team that tags sharks for NOAA and Texas A&M Harte Research Institute. The young gentlemen that this article is about are, in fact, dedicated shark fishermen. They are not your average fishermen. Your average fishermen would not have the gear or the "know how" to keep that shark alive after landing it. If that shark spent more than 5 minutes out of the water it would have died. As mentioned in the article, these sharks will fight to complete exhaustion. 


What you are not seeing is how they handled the shark when it was landed. If you were there with them, you would see how completely prepared (and fast) they were to get that shark back in the water. I know this because I do this. I know this because if they were not professionals this article's head line would have the words "Killed Shark" in it. There are multiple shark fishermen there and each of them have a job to do when the shark hits the sand. This article does not mention everything that was happening in the shadows of the beach goers standing by. The article instead focuses on the negativity of the catch. If you only know half the story you will develop your opinions on the information you are familiar with. I suggest that anyone who has a negative opinion toward this subject do some research and find out the other side of the story. 


For goodness sake, the Australian government is publicly killing sharks so that more tourists will be able to swim there without the threat of being bit. Their focus is only on killing the large breeding sharks that appear to be the threat. They are catching them and shooting them in the head with shot guns. Focus people!!!!   

mattyelvins
mattyelvins

@david.shiffman  they wernt targeting hammers you idiot you cant control what kind of shark grabs your bait even more so off the shore

richard509
richard509

David, I can certainly appreciate your passion for shark conservation. However, I think you are barking up the wrong tree. The problem is not catch and release fishing (although there is compelling evidence that Hammerheads are especially susceptible to the stresses of being caught), the problem is long line fishing, shark culling, and international finning practices. I would also contend that hundreds of these animals are not caught each year. The dozen or so at this size that are caught are almost always released alive. These are not the brutal catch and kill techniques of the 1950s-1990s.

I know the shark fishing community would welcome working with you to come up with techniques to minimize stress and/or a tagging / DNA sample program.

Sport fishing, like hunting, (or even eating animal flesh for that matter), is deep rooted in US culture. Society is many many many generations away from changing those practices. In the mean time, I would focus my efforts on issues that we can see changed in our lifetime, like unsustainable fishing, shark finning, etc.

rainey59
rainey59

@mattyelvins @rainey59 @adi.customs  as a matter of fact,you hit the nail on the head,your a land base angler,besides fishing do you have expertise in handling of sharks?I'm not a greenie,I accompanied marine biologists on a boat during the #noWAsharkcull,I know a lot about sharks,if you think pulling & shoving a shark backwards is appropriate handling of a shark,I feel sorry for the shark & you need to consult a shark expert,as in a marine biologist/vet,they would be appalled the way you handled the shark,the screaming of the girl behind the camera & then the guys screaming toward the end of this video,would have scared the poor shark into a panic,so sorry,I dare you to come into #noWAsharkcull facebook page & show this video to experts,& hear what they have to say,if you are SO confident,in the way you handled this shark!So come on,I put the challenge to you,will you show this video to the experts in the #noWAsharkcull page? Clearly with the way you spoke to a female,your mother A.didn't raise you properly(which I don't believe this is the case)B.Your mum would be disappointed in you,telling a female to shut up 

sharkespeare1
sharkespeare1

@wcolton1
I, too, have worked at TAMU-CC's HRI and can honestly tell you that I can't count the number of times I've walked into the "mudroom" on the first floor and witnessed 10-12 dead sharks lying upon the large steel table (which is also why I know it takes a lot more than 5 minutes out of water to kill a shark).  You call this conservation?

Yes, the HRI shark tagging program (which is still in its infancy, btw) is trying to research the sharks of the GoM, but there is very little actual conservation in the methods of catching and/or tagging.  The lead PhD didn't even know how to tag a shark 4 years ago.  You may be trying to minimize the stress, but what you don't apparently understand is that this story is about hammerheads (of which there are very few in south Texas other than a massive population of bonnetheads).  The lack of hammerhead population is most likely due to the incredibly poor Texas conservation efforts to protect tarpon over the many years in local waters.  I've seen the catch reports from Padre Island dating back to the mid 60's...there aren't many hammers here.     

There have been recent papers put out by RJD (see Neil Hammerschlag's paper) that point out that hammers are particularly vulnerable to extended fishing stress.  This is the point that David Shiffman is trying to make.  Would it be better to cut the line and let the sharks swim with the hook and line in their mouths?  It could hardly be worse than an hour's worth of exhaustion for this/these species.  Read the paper. 

As for the cull in Australia, we aren't talking about a cull...we're talking about fishing hammerhead shark stocks in the US.  BUT, if you're so in tune with the Western Australian cull, you should have picked up on the fact that the fishermen there aren't using shotguns to kill the sharks...they are using a 22 caliber rifle held by one hand over the edge of the boat to fire point blank into the sharks' heads.  Why do I mention this? Because if you aren't paying attention to the details, then you probably shouldn't be educating others about the topic just like you can't speak for what was happening off-camera in Florida during these catches.  Just because HRI uses a certain methodology (which, I grant you, is improving), doesn't mean these guys are, too. 

rainey59
rainey59

@wcolton1 @rainey59 @adi.cu@wcolton1@rainey59@adi.customs ok,I put the same challenge to you that I put to matty elvins,please come & show your video to the shark experts,(qualified marine biologists) not shark fishermen/women) in our face book page, #noWAsharkcull I have seen first hand how our sharks were handled(by so-called fisherie's department experts,who supposedly,knew & trained on how to handle sharks)as you may well know,from media coverage,they did not handle our sharks well,& the cull was nothing but a Senseless/Barbaric/useless cull,that should NEVER had taken place,many west australians fought like hell,to get those drum lines pulled from the water,we have so much recorded/photographic evidence,yet still our stupid premier barnett,did not listen to shark experts,including top marine biologists world wide(USA was the main one)yet,he still somehow,managed to beat a court case,even though MANY breaches of the exemption were broken...btw,the fight for our sharks,is still ongoing,as the idiot wants the drum lines,back in the water by Nov this year(For 3 years),so please don't tell me,I don't know what I'm seeing,I have seen more in the last 3 months that I care to see in a lifetime mate,so please,come join our group & maybe,even join in our fight against our Government,we have many people from all over Australia & the world! ;)

I agree,that the handling of this shark was NOT barbaric like our gov fisheries officer's,but dragging a shark in,so onlookers could get a better view,& perhaps even breaking the law?I'm not sure,but I read somewhere that it is against the law in Florida to catch hammerheads? The sharks head was not under enough water or in the right direction,for the best waterflow to pass through it's gills,if you are 100% sure,this was the best care for the shark,feel free to come show it on our f/book page,btw,it was a marine biologist,who showed us these videos, I'm sorry,I would listen to an expert marine biologists,before I listen to shark fishermen,(even if you intentions were good) :(@stoms  

mattyelvins
mattyelvins

@richard509  im an aussie so i cant speak to what its like over there but i can tell you from our experience here is is that rec fisherman will never work with greenies we tried that here and all they did was twist,chop,change and turn inside out everything we have ever tried to tell them all of wich has been proven to be right and them very wrong.


richard509
richard509

@davidasteen True, but why make enemies where you have friends?  Shark fisherman are indeed stewards of the environment and have more reason than most to keep the oceans clean and sharks swimming.  These catches bring awareness, which is my opinion, is the first step in any conservation effort.  For all we know, there was a little boy sitting on the beach that day that is now inspired to be the next Dave Shiffman. 

davidasteen
davidasteen

@richard509 I agree that some threats are more significant on a global scale than others, but you're setting up a false premise, i.e., that we can only focus on one threat at a time. In reality, effective marine conservation requires a comprehensive strategy.

richard509
richard509

@rainey59 @richard509 Rainey - The US is a country of laws, my understanding is Australia is too.  Sometimes debating those laws comes down to legal semantics, including the definition of terms that we use in every day language.  David Shiffman does a great job in one of his previous articles applying the facts to Florida's laws, specifically related to the words "land" and "harvest".  The word "catch" doesn't really have much meaning in this case.


Again, shark cull, drum lines, long lines, shark nets, finning, etc.  Those are all global issues that claim millions of sharks lives.  Catch and release fishing is statistically insignificant. 

richard509
richard509

@davidasteen @richard509 Millions and millions of sharks are killed by human beings each year.  Why focus on the activities that might claim a few sharks, when that energy can be focused on changing policy to save millions? 


This is where prioritizing is important. 


Let me draw a quick analogy to an emergency room.  If a patient comes in with uncontrollable bleeding, while simultaneously in cardiac arrest, but also has an infected hangnail.  How much attention does the hangnail deserve? 


The analogy isn't to trivialize the threat, but to underscore the need to prioritize.

davidasteen
davidasteen

@richard509  Can't we all agree that once a species is endangered, we should be focusing on alleviating all threats, instead of ranking them?

rainey59
rainey59

@richard509  but,isn't it illegal in that state to catch a protected species? Yes,I agree,working with someone like David Shiffman,would be a great advantage/experience,but please,@ the end of the day,the sharks n marine life need to be left alone in their own environment! ;) here in western australia,we have just gone through a harrowing shark cull,we have been working with experts to help stop this barbaric policy of drum lines,our gov have a lot to answer for! 

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