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The Hammerhead: why is it legal to kill an endangered species?

To my dismay, I came across a short little article, Record-breaking hammerhead shark caught near Texas City that reported on a guy who smashed the record for the largest hammerhead ever caught. Having a relatively recent interest in shark conservation, I was confused. I thought I had read along the way that hammerhead sharks are an endangered species so I couldn’t fathom why people were allowed to kill them.

Indeed, great hammerheads are on the endangered species list. In fact it is estimated that over the past 25 years, their population has decreased by 8o%. At the current rate, it is not only conceivable but rather likely that this shark could become extinct in my life time. It’s sad. I think people ought to know what they are killing.

Nine different species make up the hammerhead family varying from small to large: among these is the great hammerhead. Like most sharks, the hammerhead shark is a predator, although this shark has greater advantages in capturing its prey.

First advantage is the positioning of its eyes. Plopped on the ends of is long flat head, they give it a 360 degree view vertically, letting it spot and track prey both above and below its current position with great accuracy. Another distinctive advantage is its senses. All sharks have electrical impulse senses but on the great hammerhead they are greater allowing them to detect stingrays hidden under sand on the ocean floor.

Despite these hunting advantages it is rare for a hammerhead to bite humans. There are only 34 recorded incidents to date and none of them involve fatalities. As with most sharks, humans are not a tasty treat. Although, hammerheads prefer stingrays, they also eat fish, crabs, lobsters, octopuses, and squid. Occasionally, they eat smaller sharks, including those of their own species.

The largest threat to these fascinating creatures is over-fishing. The demand for them is driven by the Asian market where shark fin soup is a popular delicatessen. Sharks are “finned” after capture and then flung back in the sea alive to slowly die from blood loss or starvation. Like many sharks and other sea creatures, hammerheads also die as accidental by-catch in large commercial fishing nets in the Atlantic, where the hammerhead is seldom taken for its fins. Massive illegal fishing of hammerheads occurs in the Indian Ocean and near Africa.

So what can be done to help? First off cut the line! Some fishermen will do a catch and release; however, hammerheads are noted for their fight and even though they are released they often die from exhaustion. Second, sign some or all of the petitions below voicing your care for the endangered sharks in our oceans. Politicians need to know we care. Finally, write your congressmen. Currently Florida is the only state that protects hammerheads. Considering the prize winning catch mentioned above was in Texas, more states need to get involved in protecting these already endangered species.

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