Gillnet fishermen suspected in shark deaths
Officials say that the dozens of dead pups were likely dumped
The three dozen dead hammerhead shark pups that washed ashore in Kahaluu on Wednesday were probably discarded in Kaneohe Bay by a gillnet fisherman, said John Naughton, a marine biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service.
"We've seen this happen before," he said.
The pups are baby scalloped hammerhead sharks no older than 1 or 2 weeks, Naughton said. They were each about a foot long.
Kaneohe Bay is a known nursery for sharks. Adult female scalloped hammerheads give birth to 15 to 30 pups in bays this time of year, and it is not unusual to find some pups wash ashore, Naughton said.
But when large numbers are found on shore, he said it is usually the handiwork of gillnet fishermen.
"The guys don't want them. They just dump them," he said.
State fishing regulations prohibit leaving gillnets in the water for more than four hours in a 24-hour period and requires fishermen to inspect their nets every two hours to release or remove unwanted catch. But the rules do not specify how fishermen should discard their unwanted catch.
"Ideally, we want people to be sensitive about it," said Francis Oishi, state Recreational Fisheries Program manager.
That means if the unwanted catch is still alive, fishermen should let it go free. If the unwanted catch is dead, they should discard it so it does not wash up on shore, Oishi said.
Naughton suspects the shark pups were dumped near shore. He said he was diving near Kepapa Island on the other side of the Kaneohe Bay Wednesday and did not see any dead shark pups.
The National Marine Fisheries Service has five of the dead shark pups on ice for examination. Naughton said he will look for net marks on the carcasses. Officials might decide to take tissue samples for examination, but only if more dead shark pups are found in the same area, Naughton said.
Scalloped hammerhead sharks are the most common hammerhead sharks in coastal waters in the world and the most common in Hawaii waters. They can grow up to 8 feet long and are not aggressive or dangerous to humans. The loss of three dozen pups is not a threat to the ecological balance in Kaneohe Bay, Naughton said.