Schooling Scalloped Hammerheads
This day is still so vivid in my memory. I remember the sleek silhouetted dorsal fins cutting through the placid surface, catching our attention as we scanned the sea. I remember deducing that they were Scalloped Hammerheads by the shape & proximity of their dorsal and caudal fins. I remember carefully sneaking into the water and calling to Jim through my snorkel, “You’ve got to come see this!” because I couldn’t take my eyes off of the 80+ animals that slowly circled from the top of the water column, disappearing into the blue, beyond my vision. I remember noticing that the majority of these animals were female and I
remember the moment I realized that they were observing us as well.
I had never looked a Hammerhead in the eye before; the animals I’d previously encountered always fled before I could get close but, this day was different, and I took in every detail I could: the rough structure of their skin, the golden shimmer it reflected near the surface, the parasites hitching a ride and scars they left behind, their numerous small teeth, the delicate curvature of their body lines and the watchfulness of their eyes.
I’ve never felt like a shark was truly looking at me before. Their other senses are so finely attuned, I’ve always felt like they’ve judged my presence based on my movement in the water, my scent in the sea and the beat of my heart, so, I was surprised when I noticed they were carefully studying us with their eyes. They turned on their sides and peered up in our direction, they approached and swam alongside us, they assessed our presence and then continued on their path, dancing amongst one another, establishing a hierarchy within their school and eventually transitioning back to the depths of the sea as the sun slowly sunk in the sky. It was one of my most favorite encounters ever.
It's hard to fathom that this species has become one of the many listed as endangered due to overfishing and shark finning. Sharks are the only ones who need their fins, they don't belong in soups or powders, their teeth don't belong on necklaces and trinkets, their pups don't belong in bottles of formaldehyde. In 2000, President Bill Clinton signed the Shark Finning Prohibition Act which banned shark finning on any fishing vessel within the United States territorial waters and on all U.S. fishing vessels in international waters. In 2010, Hawai'i became the first state to ban possession, sale, trade and distribution of shark fins. Hammerheads have one of the highest infant mortality rates amongst sharks and, with the rapid decline in both juvenile and adult sharks, the rest of the U.S. needs to follow Hawai'i's lead. We need to establish countrywide laws that ban all possession and trade of shark fins and we need to create sanctuaries for these animals where shark fishing is illegal.
Contact your local legislation and find out if your state has joined Hawai'i in protecting these spectacular animals. If not, start a petition to do so! What is life, if not a unique opportunity to make a positive impact on the world?