WARNING—DISTRESSING CONTENT: The brutal treatment of an endangered hammerhead shark that is being restrained in a fishing boat has sparked outrage, with the bloody scenes being branded "legal torture".
Shocking footage was captured and shared by a 'notorious shark hunter' from Florida in the US, Mark the Shark, who filmed the distressed animal after being caught while promoting his shark fishing business.
In the video, the hammerhead shark — a protected species in parts of the US and Australia — is seen thrashing about in the back of a vessel covered in blood and clearly distressed. It appears to have been removed from the water for some time.
At one point of the video, which goes on for over a minute, another man — presumably an employee with the shark fishing company — approaches the animal and appears to antagonise it before trying to secure a latch on the back of the boat, but the shark thrashes again and escapes through the door.
Fisherman encourages kids to watch
The disturbing shark footage has been shared in the name of "tourism" by 'Mark the Shark' who endorses the recreational fishing trip as a family-friendly activity. On his Instagram page, the controversial fisherman says he "takes bookings daily" and "kids [are] welcome" to watch as he attempts to catch sharks.
As "horrible" as the footage is, Florida-based shark enthusiast and photographer Scott Fairchild told Yahoo News Australia that what he's doing is "technically legal" because it's likely being done "offshore" where state law doesn't apply. He also said Mark the Shark is not well tolerated.
Hammerhead sharks are "prohibited from recreational and commercial harvest in Florida state waters", the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission states, but they are allowed to be caught. What happens outside this area remains unclear and locals have been fighting to change the law for some time, Mr Fairchild said.
Likely hammerhead shark will not survive, says expert
Speaking to Yahoo News, shark scientist Dr Leonardo Guida, from the Australian Marine Conservation Society, said the video clearly shows a "complete lack of consideration for animal welfare" with the shark seen "thrashing around bloodied, probably smashing its eyes on the deck because they're on the side of his head".
"Hammerheads are known by scientists to suffer extreme amounts of stress when they are caught on line," he explained. "I don't know whether that shark would survive. But suffice to say it doesn't look to be in a good condition."
He also noted the responsibility fishers have whether or not an animal is being consumed or released.
'Irresponsible and unsustainable tourism'
A wildlife filmmaker and shark specialist Andy Casagrande was one of many outraged by the video and has slammed Florida state for allowing such behaviour. He dubbed the activity "irresponsible & unsustainable tourism" and called on the state's governor to act.
"Welcome to Florida, come on down, bring the kids, bring grandma, bring the whole family & enjoy the legal torture & murder of endangered species," he captioned the video after resharing it online. "WTF is wrong with people that actually enjoy this?" he questioned.
What does the law say in Australia?
The laws around catching hammerheads differ from state to state in Australia and it can get a little complicated, Dr Guida implied.
"If you're fishing recreationally in Australia, at least in Queensland and New South Wales, it's illegal to take hammerhead sharks. However, in Australian waters, our commercial fisheries are still allowed to take endangered hammerhead sharks for consumption," he explained to Yahoo.
Dr Guida said the legislation regarding what condition the fish has to be released is unclear.
"As a matter of principle, and as a matter of responsible fishing, I would expect the Australian public to hold fishers that treat animals in such a way to account and report them to the relevant authorities," he said.
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