For the first time in a while, Hawaii’s making the news for something other than its still-erupting Kilauea volcano, but sadly, it’s nothing remotely good. As has been reported by a few outlets, including the Associated Press, it appears that dozens of baby hammerhead sharks were found dead this week near Keehi Lagoon in Honolulu.
The precise number is uncertain, but anywhere from 50 to 100 of the deceased shark pups were found piled up near La Mariana Sailing Club. State officials, including the Hawaii Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement, note that although the lagoon is a birthing location for hammerhead sharks, nothing natural would see them die out and be dumped on the shore like this.
The most likely scenario is that a fisherman (perhaps accidentally) caught them, and instead of returning them to the water, they dumped them on land and left the scene of the crime. The baby sharks were likely dead within just a few minutes, as they require constant movement to respire. Caught in a net, they would have been sufficiently immobilized and ended up asphyxiating.
Hammerhead sharks are fascinating creatures. As noted by National Geographic, their weird head shape and wide-set eyes give them a considerably better visual range than most other sharks. At the same time, they have sensory organs in that funny head of theirs, including one that allows them to detect the electrical fields of their prey – whether they’re swimming before them or they’re hiding under some sand.
Hammerhead sharks aren’t a single species, mind you: they’re a family named Sphyrnidae, and you’ve got plenty of genera and species contained within it. The great hammerhead has the most distinctive hammer, while the smooth hammerhead has a cranium that looks like it’s had one too many encounters with a steamroller.
Per Honolulu Magazine, Hawaii is lucky enough to feature 40 different species of shark. The dead baby sharks are likely to be the scalloped species, which often use this lagoon for birthing in the summer months.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, these coastal and semi-oceanic creatures – Sphyrna lewini – are listed as endangered, which makes the latest incident particularly heartbreaking.
“All life-stages are vulnerable to capture as both target and bycatch in fisheries,” the entry explains. Additionally, it notes that “hammerhead shark fins are more highly valued than other species because of their high fin ray count, leading to increased targeting of this species in some areas.”
As noted by Motherboard, a bill, introduced in 2016, would make the knowing capture or kill of sharks in this way a crime – but the bill won’t be passed until 2019 at the earliest.