11-foot hammerhead shark washes up on southern Florida beach

Hammerhead Shark — Courtesy: Shutterstock — Ken Keifer

Much to beachgoers’ surprise, an impressive 11-foot hammerhead shark washed up on a beach in southern Florida.

Pompano Beach visitors encountered the shark’s corpse on April 6, according to CNN affiliate WPLG.

After moving the body away from curious onlookers, scientists from the American Shark Conservancy took samples and identified the animal as a female great hammerhead.

Hannah Medd, a conservation scientist and the founder of the American Shark Conservancy, told CNN that “she and her team took the shark’s measurements and fin clippings to test its DNA and muscle tissue for biopsies. The female was pregnant and weighed around 500 lbs.” 

The Broward County Sea Turtle Conservation Program, which monitors for turtle eggs on beaches, alerted the Conservancy, which has the authorization to take samples from protected animals like the hammerhead shark. A team member had come across a body with a hook in its mouth.

The “specific type of hook usually indicates someone was fishing for a large animal like a hammerhead,” Medd said.

“This species, in particular, is quite susceptible to stress,” she continued.

According to Medd, a tiny group of recreational anglers targets sharks for catch-and-release, which is allowed in Florida, although the sharks cannot be harvested. However, the stress of catch-and-release, along with wounds from fishing hooks, can lead to death in rare cases.

“This is a pretty rare event,” Medd said. “We get a call for maybe one to four a year [hammerheads] that have washed back up.”

Her group has lobbied for optimal catch-and-release methods, such as employing better fishing gear, which minimizes the “battle time” when sharks are fighting fishermen, she added. Less fighting time indicates a lower risk of injury or death.

“These sharks are really good at fighting,” she said. “That’s why the anglers like to catch them — it’s exciting.”

She added that “because they’re prohibited, we typically can’t get samples, so in this case, it was an unfortunate but good chance for us to learn more about a pretty important species.”

A neighboring construction worker dug a hole and buried the shark on the beach after the biologists obtained their samples, according to Medd.

The stunning sight of the shark washed up on the beach brought up strong emotions in several beachgoers. Medd stated that she witnessed some onlookers crying.

“You never want to see an animal this big laying on the beach,” said Pompano Beach resident Kevin Nosal, according to WPLG. “This is 11 feet long and over 500 pounds. It’s a female, so it’s always sad when a female passes.”

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, great hammerhead sharks are common in Florida’s coastal waters. They can grow to be 18 feet long and live for almost 20 years. Commercial longline fishers sometimes target the fish for their fins, according to the commission.

According to Medd, hammerhead sharks have a significant impact on ocean ecosystems as predators. “They’re just a very important piece of that food web that keeps our oceans healthy.”

“Even people enjoying a day at the beach like to see healthy oceans and coastlines,” she said. “Sharks are actually a part of that.”

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