Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation turtle patrol volunteers discovered a female hammerhead shark Saturday, June 1, on a stretch of Captiva Island beach. She was deceased and later determined to be pregnant. Turtle patrol volunteers contacted the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission to report their discovery.

While her cause of death is unknown, hammerhead sharks commonly die from unsound catch-and-release practices. “Many species of sharks, especially great and scalloped hammerheads, are highly susceptible to being caught,” said SCCF CEO Dr. Ryan Orgera. “A 2014 study found that 53 percent of great hammerheads died within weeks of being caught and released. This occurs even if handled properly.”

Increasing the survival rate of a released shark is primarily the reason FWC approved changes to shark fishing regulations earlier this year. The changes, which take effect July 1, address concerns over shore-based shark fishing, a practice that is often detrimental to the animal.

They don’t have a rib cage, so when a shark is placed on the beach or in a boat, it’s entire body weight is being supported by it’s internal organs; plus, it can’t breathe,” said Orgera. “They are a fragile creature that is also exhausted from a prolonged fight on the line.”

Under the new shore-based shark fishing regulations, anglers are required to immediately release a prohibited shark species by cutting the leader, line or hook and the animal must remain in the water at all times. Non-offset, non-stainless-steel circle hooks must be used, as well as a device capable of quickly cutting the leader or hook. Chumming, when fishing for any species of shark from the shore, is also prohibited.

The United States does a better job of protecting sharks compared to many other countries,” said Orgera, who previously worked on the Ending Illegal Fishing Project and Global Shark Conservation teams with The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Shark populations around the world continue to rapidly decline, and it’s mostly attributed to the trade in their fins – often used to make an expensive Asian soup. “It is estimated 100 million sharks die each year and about 80 million of those deaths are for their fin,” said Orgera. Fishing gear is another contributor to the declining shark populations. Many species of sharks are listed as endangered and threatened, including the scalloped hammerhead.

However, sharks are one of the top ocean predators with an important role in the balance of their ecosystem. Orgera encourages the public to follow FWC’s ‘Shark Smart Guidelines’ and pay close attention to the shore-based shark fishing regulation changes effective next month.

For full regulation changes, visit the FWC website. To learn more about the conservation of sharks, visit the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website.