ORANGE BEACH — Scientists suspect the dead, 14-foot great hammerhead shark found in Orange Beach on April 20 was killed in a fishing accident."We examined the shark internally and externally …
ORANGE BEACH — Scientists suspect the dead, 14-foot great hammerhead shark found in Orange Beach on April 20 was killed in a fishing accident.
"We examined the shark internally and externally and determined it was not a natural mortality," said Dr. James Marcus Drymon, assistant extension professor at Mississippi State University, who specializes in coastal shark research.
"Fish can only die from one of two ways, a natural or fishing mortality," he said. "We suspect this was a fishing related mortality, but there is no way to conclusively know one way or another."
A Facebook post by Mississippi State University Marine Fisheries Ecology, further explained that hammerhead sharks are "especially prone to the physiological effects of capture stress, more so than most other shark species. Pregnancy compounds this physiological stress. Consequently, we suspect death was the result of fishing mortality."
Drymon said it is uncommon to see such a large shark wash ashore, but occasionally deceased sharks will float onshore."Given the size of this individual shark, it is extremely rare," Drymon said. "However, sharks will wash onshore for a variety of reasons such as infection, red tide, starvation or puncture from a fishing related incident."
The shark was pregnant with 40 pups when it washed on shore. None of the pups survived.
Drymon said that although the deceased shark posed no threat to civilians, the immediate response from the community was remarkable.
"By the time the shark washed ashore, it was completely dead," Drymon said, "It was handled well and there was no public outcry, people were just concerned."
Drymon said that while it is an unfortunate situation, the incident is a reminder that there are fascinating animals right off the Gulf of Mexico.
Off the coast of Alabama, great hammerheads patrol coastal waters primarily to hunt stingrays. The sharks are not considered aggressive and have never been implicated in a fatal attack.
Samples taken both the adult and infant sharks will be donated to local classrooms like Dauphin Island Sea Lab - Discovery Hall Programs for educational purposes.
"We can learn a lot from this. The marine life off our coast is extraordinary and we are all lucky to live in such an amazing place," Drymon said.
In the future, Drymon urges anyone who may encounter deceased marine life to call Orange Beach Coastal Resources.
"Most people call the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, which is great," Drymon said. "But if you call the coastal resources, they can direct the proper specialized team to take over."
Follow the Coastal Resources department online at facebook.com/OBCoastalResources or call (251) 981-1063.