The biggest news story in the world of salt water fishing just got a lot more complicated. According to news reports, the pending-world-record hammerhead shark, caught by Captain Bucky Dennis this past May in Boca Grande, Florida, was carrying 55 pups. The number is the largest ever recorded in a pregnant female and provides scientists with new information on the species. A few of the pups will be saved for research on the reproductive habits of hammerheads.
In addition, the necropsy also revealed that the shark’s stomach contained the tail end of an estimated five-foot tarpon and a stingray (most likely Dennis’s bait). Also embedded in the stomach was a small fishhook. The shark’s liver weighed more than 100 pounds.
The news will no doubt create a slew of controversy on the ethics of keeping big fish, especially since shark populations are depleted. As every angler knows, each time we hook a fish we make a decision to release or keep our catch. And many fishermen are aware that the largest fish are often females. “If I had gotten it to the boat and thought that it wasn’t the world record, I would have just cut it loose,” says Dennis. “Likewise, if I could have weighed it at sea and released it, I absolutely would have. But if I had taken just the length and girth and come in and said, ‘I caught the world record,’ no one would have believed me. I’ll be honest, I wanted the fish properly documented. After all, catching a fish like that was something that no one else had ever done.”
While we would have encouraged Captain Dennis to release his fish, as we would with any species in decline, he broke no laws by keeping it. And it can’t be denied that his catch was an historical angling feat. “Fishermen weigh in big tarpon and seatrout to try and capture records or for tournaments all the time,” says Dennis. “Then later they find out the fish were full of roe. But I don’t hear anyone complaining about those catches. There was no way for me to know that the shark was pregnant when I hooked it. I wouldn’t do anything differently if I could go back.”