What might appear to be a shark rescue mission actually serves as a prime example of exactly what not to do.
Beachgoers north of West Palm Beach, Florida were filmed pulling a hammerhead shark to shore after it was hooked by a fisherman. Though they attempted to remove the hook from the shark's fin, they also took the time to take selfies with the beached animal before releasing it back into the water. Now, the woman who captured the video, shark activist and educator Leigh Cobb, says the shark will “absolutely” die within two weeks.
"[Great hammerhead sharks] don't survive after being taken out of the water," Cobb told ABC News. She says the stress usually causes a hammerhead shark to have lactic acid buildup that cannot be reversed and often leads to death.
In the US, laws around shark fishing vary from state to state with equally varying consequences. Many species of sharks are prohibited from being harvested, possessed, or even landed in Florida. Endangered hammerhead sharks are one of them. If caught, Florida Fish and Wildlife says they must be immediately released unharmed.
If you snag a big one, first things first: don't sit around taking selfies. Photos and videos can only be taken during the active act of release.
At no time should a shark ever be dragged ashore. Experts say sharks should be kept in water that goes to the base of their dorsal fin at the very lowest, and the gills must always be kept in the water.
Don’t even consider bringing prohibited species past the surf zone. Not sure if it’s considered prohibited? Officials say to treat unknown catches as such and release them immediately.
Then there’s that whole releasing thing, which can be quite tricky.
If a hook can't safely be removed from the shark’s mouth then use a bolt cutter. If that takes too long or becomes unsafe, leave the hook in the shark and cut the leader as close to the hook as possible.
Most importantly, if you see something fishy going on then report it immediately.
In the case of this hammerhead, Cobb says the shark may have been lured to shore using a technique called “blood baiting”, or chumming, where blood is dropped into the ocean to attract sharks.
She described the scene as “devastating” and says since posting the video she’s received online threats. “The reality is it makes me even more determined to get this stopped," Cobb told a local news station.
While the Florida crowd may not have been practicing best methods, it’s unclear if what they did was illegal.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Department is investigating the incident.