Nearly one hundred baby hammerhead sharks were found dead near Oahu’s Keehi Lagoon in Hawaii this week.
The pups were probably caught by a fisherman, who then discarded them near La Mariana Sailing Club on the south side of the island.
Authorities are now investigating the circumstances behind their death, according to local TV station KHON.
“I see sharks right from here and then I walked farther and I see all this fish, the sharks across this barricade,” Samuel Etrata, who works at the sailing club, told KHON. “It is very shocking, yeah.”
The summer months coincide with hammerhead pupping season on Oahu (when mother sharks swim close to shore to birth their young), where Keehi Lagoon, plus the east side’s Kaneohe Bay, are fertile grounds for this.
Experts like Andrew Rossiter, director of the Waikiki Aquarium, told KHON that a fisherman probably snagged the baby sharks in a gill net, which is a vertical hanging net notorious for entangling threatened and endangered species.
“To breathe they have to keep moving so once they're in the net for even two to three minutes, they're unable to breathe and they suffocate,” Rossiter said, noting that he’s never seen so many pups killed at once.
After recently discovering the sharks, Etrata called the State Department of Land and Natural Resources, which manages the state’s ocean waters. It’s now up to whoever leases the Keehi land to remove them, reported the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
There are multiple species of hammerhead shark that call Hawaii’s waters home, but the scalloped hammerhead shark ( Sphyrna lewini) is common across the islands, and has known nursery areas in Keehi Lagoon. Elsewhere in Kaneohe Bay, the Hawaii Marine Laboratory Refuge exists to protect these sharks and their habitat. As a species overall, it’s distributed throughout warm coastal waters, and is considered to be endangered globally by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
State legislation that would punish those who kill sharks is currently pending.
A bill that “establishes penalties and fines for any person who knowingly captures, kills, or takes any shark within state marine waters and makes it a misdemeanor,” was introduced in 2016 by State Senator Mike Gabbard, father of Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard.
“I'm sick to my stomach about what's happened today,” Sen. Gabbard told KHON. “It's really giving me the incentive to make sure that this bill gets passed in 2019.”
In the meantime, the State Department of Land and Natural Resources is asking anyone with information about the baby hammerheads to please report it.