Death at the beach

by Dr. Erich Ritter
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It just happened here in Pensacola where I live. A fisherman caught a 2 meter hammerhead shark from shore, fought it for a few minutes, cut the line and let it go again. Lucky shark, right? Except the "let go" part ended in the death of this majestic animal since it was too exhausted to start swimming again on its own to maintain water flow, thus get enough oxygen. Several things are wrong with this picture. First of all, hammerheads are a protected species in Florida hence one is not even allowed to catch them. But, here is the problem, you can't target or avoid a particular shark species when fishing "for sharks." This whole issue with what species is allowed to be caught (killed and taken home) and what isn't is one of these bureaucratic whishy-washy rules that look good on paper but do not work in real life or at the beach as seen with this catch. Why do we allow the catch of a certain shark species, while others have to be released immediately? Why not just prohibit shark fishing all together? Beats me. Even more so since there is no "science" behind which can be caught and which shouldn't. Are there actually population estimation of one or the other species to decide which is still plenty and which isn't? Should be, right? But looking at the ways this "data" has been collected is more than questionable. Is it really necessary for some Joe and Jane Fisherman to be allowed to go out there and hook and fight a shark, even when they plan to release it? It seems to be that's why some politicians came up with the "catch and release" procedure. Catch but not kill. Of course this plays right in the hand of these fishermen, get the thrill and have an excuse when asked by conservationists. "Catch and release" is nearly as bad as catch and kill. When catching a shark, how quickly it is released and how much it struggles determines its survivorship. The longer, the less likely it makes it. So we allow a person who does not know the first thing about a shark's wellbeing to decide what is tolerable and what is not. This situation stinks. Just because there is a custom of the past still alive today does not mean we should find ways to keep it going, even if just for a while longer. Sooner than later, the shark populations, and species for that matter will reach a density that does not allow them to maintain their positions in the marine food webs anymore. Then what? Do we then just tell these weekend hunters that no matter what shark they catch, they have to let it go? The problem will not go away since it is left up to these types of people to determine and decide what is enough and what isn't.

This hammerhead that died on a beach in Pensacola was a victim of such ignorant decision-making. Hammerheads belong to the species that do not possess the type of gill muscles that nurse sharks and other bottom dwelling species have that can lay on the bottom for an extended period of time. No, hammerheads have to swim in order to get enough water over their gills, and therefore oxygen to maintain their circulatory system going. But, being on a hook was enough for this hammerhead to struggle so hard that the remaining of its oxygen got depleted and was not replenished through the gills on time–because it could not move forward anymore. And it is here where a fisherman could make up for the stupid practice of shark fishing: revive the animal. Yes, get the shark off the hook, or cut the line, as quick as possible, grab the shark and start moving with it and push it forward through the water until the shark starts swimming on its own again. If a fisherman is man or woman enough to catch a shark, he or she should also be able to do what is needed when such a shark is caught. I know this is wishful thinking that a shark fisherman is also a shark-savvy person or will turn into one. Why educate yourself if you can get the cheap thrill and nothing is going happen to you even if you don't do what the law says. When was the last time that any of us saw a law enforcement officer camp out there to do exactly what is needed: punish those who believe that nature can still be raped whenever they have the urge of hurting another animal.

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