Dead Great White Had Fishing Hook in Its Mouth, Officials Say

by Vern Evans

The shark weighed an estimated 1,500 pounds and had a fishing hook stuck in its mouth

Biologists investigate a dead shark found on a Florida beach.

Biologists with the Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center checked out the dead shark before it was removed from the beach. Photo by Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center

A great white shark that was found dead on a beach in the Florida Panhandle Friday had a fishing hook in its mouth, officials say. This doesn’t necessarily mean the shark’s death was fishing-related — a necropsy is currently underway — but it is being considered as a potential cause of death.

“A fishing hook was embedded in her jaw, so post-release mortality is one possibility,” NOAA Fisheries researcher Michelle Passerotti said in a Facebook post over the weekend.  

Passerotti also corrected other news reports claiming the female shark was pregnant. She said this was incorrectly assumed because of how “girthy” the shark was. It weighed an estimated 1,500 pounds and was around 15 feet long.

“She was actually still immature,” Passerotti explained. “Female white sharks mature around 33 years of age, so she was probably 30ish years old and on the cusp of maturity.”

The Navarre Beach Fire Department was first notified of the discovery around 7 a.m. on Friday. The shark was already dead by that point, and marine biologists with the Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center and the Gulf World Marine Institute were some of the first officials on the scene.

NBFD volunteers assisted with the shark’s removal alongside Santa Rosa County workers, who had to bring in heavy equipment after struggling to move the huge shark with two trucks. A video recorded by a local news reporter shows the workers dragging the shark off the beach with an excavator.

NBFD fire chief Danny Furleigh updated the Pensacola News Journal later that morning. He said biologists searched the shark for tracking tags but found none. Furleigh also said his crews noticed a fishing hook in the shark’s mouth.

Read Next: Will a Few Oblivious Anglers Get Land-Based Shark Fishing Outlawed Entirely?

This was confirmed at the NOAA lab in Panama City, where officials took biological samples from the shark along with other data that will help pathologists determine the shark’s cause of death. Passerotti said these samples will also be used by other organizations and institutions that study great white sharks.

“These types of strandings, while sad, are an incredible opportunity for research in species that we rarely have an opportunity to study so thoroughly,” Passerotti said. “This shark will contribute a vast amount of information to our understanding of white sharks.”

Fishing for Great Whites Is a Gray Area

If necropsy results do reveal that the shark’s death was caused by recreational fishing, it wouldn’t be a good look for anglers. But it wouldn’t necessarily be a crime, either. Great white sharks are federally protected in Florida along with all other U.S. waters. This means it’s illegal for anglers to retain or possess a great white shark, and there are federal regulations that minimize bycatch by commercial fishermen.

Read Next: Video of Two Men Stabbing a Shark on a Florida Beach Shows Exactly Why Land-Based Shark Fishermen Are Getting a Bad Rap

The rules around sportfishing for great whites are more of a gray area, however, and saltwater anglers catch these sharks all the time — both intentionally and by accident. Anglers in the Atlantic Ocean can even target great whites with the proper permits. Federal regulations only require anglers to “release the fish immediately without removing the shark from the water and without further harming the shark.”

As an example, a pair of Florida fishing guides posted a video to YouTube earlier this month featuring the 1,200-plus-pound great white shark they caught off Navarre Beach — the same beach where the dead shark was found on Friday. But since they followed all the rules by keeping the shark in the water and releasing it without (too much) delay, their catch appears totally legal. The great white the anglers caught on Jan. 29 was smaller than the shark that was found dead at Navarre on Friday.

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