Researchers suspect 14-foot, pregnant hammerhead shark that washed ashore died from fishing mortality

Hammerheads experience capture stress more than most other shark species, officials say

A 14-foot great hammerhead shark washed up on an Alabama beach in April and researchers later found out the dead shark was pregnant. (Mississippi State University Marine Fisheries Ecology)

ORANGE BEACH, Ala. – Researchers suspect the 14-foot, pregnant hammerhead shark that washed up on an Alabama beach last week died from fishing mortality.

The great hammerhead washed ashore in Orange Beach, Alabama on Thursday afternoon and it was found that the deceased shark was pregnant with 40 pups.

“Unfortunately, it is impossible to determine the cause of death with absolute certainty,” said researchers with the Mississippi State University Marine Fisheries Ecology in a Facebook post.

“We know that great hammerheads are especially prone to the physiological effects of capture stress, more so than most other shark species. Pregnancy compounds this physiological stress,” researchers said. “Consequently, we suspect death was the result of fishing mortality.”

Officials with the university confirmed that the mother shark and all of her pups were already dead when they washed up on the beach.

Researchers were able to examine the shark’s heart, liver, esophagus, stomach, scroll valve, spleen, kidneys, and pancreas — none of which showed signs of trauma.

Additionally, no abnormal lesions or unusual parasites were found.

As part of the research into the shark’s death, officials with the school removed fin clips from the mother shark and each of the pups.

“These samples can be used to determine relatedness among the siblings; the broods of many shark species are sired by more than one male, a phenomenon known as ‘multiple paternity,’” according to the Facebook post.

Video showing the hammerhead can be seen in the media player below. Viewer discretion is advised.

“While it is sad, it is very rare to find a large pregnant female, and the data collected will be tremendously helpful in learning about Great Hammerhead fecundity,” the City of Orange Beach Coastal Resources said in a Facebook post.

Fecundity is a biological term used to describe the ability to produce offspring.

University officials said the pups will be preserved and donated to local classrooms like Dauphin Island Sea Lab - Discovery Hall Programs for educational purposes.

“Although we are saddened by the loss of these individuals, we are grateful to the City of Orange Beach Coastal Resources for reaching out to the scientific community and enabling us to study these unique specimens. The samples we took provide an opportunity to enhance our knowledge of great hammerheads in the northern Gulf of Mexico, which is critical for their continued conservation,” Marine Fisheries officials said.