By J. Scott Butherus
ESTERO - There has been lot of ink spent defending shark fishermen in our paper the past few weeks.
For the most part, anglers who target sharks for catch and release are respectable stewards of the environment. Their passion for the sport is derived by equal parts adrenaline, fascination and conservation.
But there are bad apples, and they can ruin it for the whole bushel.
This weekend, Southwest Florida had a bad apple.
A group of kayakers came across a nearly five foot scalloped hammerhead in Estero Bay on Saturday. Its jaws had been removed and the carcass had been left to rot among the mangrove shallows.
"I just couldn't believe that somebody would do such a thing," Tim Martell told NBC-2 after he found the dead shark.
Scalloped hammerheads are one of the most imperiled species of apex predators. They are currently protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. Globally, they are listed as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Under Florida law, it is illegal to posses or harvest the species in any form which includes killing one for its jaws.
For the last quarter of a century, hammerhead populations have been in steep decline because of the market for their fins.
They are extremely slow growing so it could take decades just to rebuild a population.
Based on its size, the one killed in Estero this weekend was between six and eight years old. It was in its prime reproductive age.
Instead it was left to rot.
All for a trophy.
And not even a very good one.
My fascination with this species is well documented. They have many attributes that can inspire awe, or at least they do for me. The jaws are not one of those attributes.
Hammerheads have adapted to eat slow moving prey along the bottom of the ocean floor. They have tiny mouths when compared to other sharks of its size. They don’t feed on fast-moving pelagic fish so they don’t possess the imposing dagger-like teeth. The teeth of a hammerhead are designed by evolution to grab and hold not slice.
Killing a hammerhead for its jaws is like killing an elephant and keeping its tail as a souvenir.
There is no defense for killing such a beautiful creature purely for a trophy. There is no sport in that. Want to impress your friends? Take a picture. Put it in a nice frame on your wall. You can thump your chest just as proudly and it’ll collect less dust.
We’d even be happy to publish your photo for all your peers to see.
Just don’t kill it.
It almost makes me wish that sharks were vegetarians.
Perhaps they could eat a few of those bad apples.