A woman’s dive with sharks off the Gold Coast took a dark turn after she returned home and zoomed in on one of her underwater photographs.
The image shows three rare scalloped hammerhead sharks swimming in the shallows at Burleigh Heads. It was taken by 14-time Australian freediving record-holder Amber Bourke who until Saturday had never seen them in the wild before.
“I’d taken quite a few photos and came back and edited them that day,” she told Yahoo News Australia. “That one was probably my favourite photo of the day, I managed to get three of the sharks in one photo which I was really happy with.”
Photographer notices alarming detail in photo
It was when Ms Bourke looked closely at her image before posting it to Instagram that she spotted a tiny detail that left her feeling “sad”.
“I noticed it had something hanging off the front of it,” she said. “It was taken on a decent camera, so when I zoomed in it was pretty clear it had a hook just hanging off his mouth.”
The discovery put a dampener on what had been a great day. “There was a really good vibe down there, everyone just appreciating seeing these sharks in their natural habitat,” she said.
Why are endangered sharks continuing to be killed in Australia?
According to members of the diving community who swam with the sharks, there were likely multiple shark pups snagged by hooks, and this will likely lead to their deaths or eating difficulty.
While scalloped hammerheads are categorised as endangered under Australia’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act, the listing doesn’t prevent commercial fishing vessels from targeting them.
Mother hammerheads swim into shallow waters to give birth to their pups
Scalloped hammerhead populations have declined around 80 per cent in Australia
At least 3000 hammerhead pups were caught in nets between 1962-2000.
Snorkellers' 'disheartening' behaviour
Although commercial fishing is the biggest threat to the species, other divers who ventured over to Burleigh Heads on the weekend raised other concerns.
While most of the divers were respectful of the sharks swimming in their natural environment, a number of conservationists including environmental scientist Paula Muscat expressed "frustration" about the behaviour of some.
After witnessing snorkellers aggressively pursuing the sharks, she felt some had little regard for animal welfare. “You had all of these snorkellers chasing them around with their cameras for their Instagram and it was so disheartening,” she told Yahoo.
Hammerhead pups face death from Queensland shark nets
While the inundation of shark pups was great for tourism, Ms Muscat notes that many of them will likely be killed by Queensland government’s shark nets that float further out to shore.
The impact of the nets, which also routinely catch migrating whales and their calves, was raised by Andre Borell from ocean conservation group Envoy Foundation.
He called on Fisheries Minister Mark Furner to remove the devices until it could be established whether the beach was a nursery ground for the species. Images released by Envoy Foundation from 2009 show multiple dead hammerhead pups and adults lying dead after being killed by shark mitigation devices.
“The amount of interest in these beautiful baby sharks shows how off the mark the Queensland government’s approach to sharks is,” Mr Borell said. “The shark control program is about killing as many sharks as possible, no matter the species or size. That is clearly not aligned with how the community feels.”
Mark Furner's office was contacted for comment, but his office directed Yahoo to the Department of Fisheries. Following publication of this article it issued a statement.
"The Queensland Government always puts the safety of people first and will not make changes to the Shark Control Program (SCP) until effective alternatives, suitable for Queensland conditions, are identified and proven," a spokesperson said.
"Hammerhead sharks are not a target species for the SCP. Hammerhead sharks caught in the program are released alive if possible. No hammerhead sharks have been caught in the Burleigh shark net in 2023.
"Although scalloped hammerhead sharks are not considered dangerous, they are feeding on bait balls in the area and water users are urged to be SharkSmart every time they are on or in the water."
Do you have a story tip? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.