A video showing a 5-foot hammerhead shark seemingly delivering pups as it’s being hauled onto a Florida beach began going viral Monday, a day after it was uploaded to YouTube.
Among the first to report on the story was the U.K.’s Daily Mail, beneath the headline: “Hammerhead shark stuns fisherman by giving birth to a litter of pups as it is hauled onto packed Florida beach.”
People on social media sites were clearly disturbed by the bizarre scene, in which the Panama Beach fisherman who reeled in the shark was dragging it by the tail as baby sharks spilled out and squirmed to make it back into the ocean.
(The Daily Mail story, at the time of this post, had been shared more than 900 times.)
It didn’t take long, however, before experts began to chime in. They pointed out that the little critters were remoras, not baby hammerheads. It’s difficult to tell, until one looks closely.
“The shark in this story is a male. You can tell because it has claspers, male reproductive organs,” marine biologist David Shiffman posted on his Facebook page. “Also, the ‘litter of pups’ are remoras, not baby hammerheads. You can tell because they DON’T LOOK ANYTHING LIKE HAMMERHEADS.”
The Florida-based Shiffman also tweeted a photo showing baby hammerheads, so people could compare these with the remoras in the video (see photo at right).
Remoras boast sucker-like organs they use to attach themselves to larger predatory fishes, such as sharks. They enjoy a free ride, and free meals, while the host fish gains nothing from this relationship.
Once the corrections regarding the footage began to appear, websites either corrected or removed their stories. This website’s story on the baby hammerhead saga lasted only 30 minutes, thankfully.
Some offered reasons for pulling their stories. Shark Attack News, for example, issued this brief apology (since removed, along with the post):
“Thank you to Coral Levy, Joseph Slocum, and others for helping confirm that the earlier posted photo/video was not baby hammerheads but instead was remoras.”
So the frenzy appears to be dying down, although people are still voicing displeasure over how the large shark was treated. (A spokeswoman for Florida State Parks said the shark died during efforts to set it free.)
However, at the time of this post, the Daily Mail had still not corrected its story, leaving its readers to ponder the fate of the poor baby sharks.
And we thought “Shark Week” had ended.