It turns out the so-called rare capture of a very large great white shark last week in the Sea of Cortez might not be so out of the ordinary. Erik Cutter, publisher of Baja Life magazine, recently returned from the Baja California town of Loreto with a photograph showing two Mexican fishermen posing with a massive set of jaws extracted from a giant shark two weeks ago, about 40 miles north of town.
The other catch (see image below) was made off the mainland coast near Guaymas.
Cutter owns a home in Loreto and is acquainted with locals and some commercial fishermen. The photograph, he said, was of a print photograph the fishermen had shared. They allowed Cutter to photograph the print if he promised to crop their faces.
Cutter was told that white sharks are being increasingly targeted for their jaws and fins, and that 13 large sharks have been killed during the past few weeks alone. “It’s a relatively new thing for them,” Cutter said.
Shark jaws are sold locally for about $1,500 per set, then re-sold by more entrepreneurial types for much steeper prices. A set of jaws like the one pictured above might garner $10,000 or more outside of Mexico.
This is an alarming development because white sharks are embattled and highly-protected in Mexico — as in the U.S. — and because portions of the Sea of Cortez are now recognized as important nursery areas for the species.
Cutter said that fishermen north of Loreto intentionally target white sharks during the spring, when adult white sharks are presumed to be more common. They use baited hooks beneath air-filled barrels. Hooked white sharks eventually tire and drown before they’re taken ashore.
In a news release Cutter stated, “Commercial fishing has become so difficult in the Sea of Cortez that several of the few remaining commercial fisherman are so desperate that they are now targeting the ocean’s greatest predator, the Great White Shark.
“According to a very reliable source, at least thirteen mature Great Whites between 16 and 22 feet long, some estimated to weigh more than 2,200 pounds, [were] slaughtered for their fins and their jaws.”
Much of the fishing is said to occur off Isla Ildefonso, an increasingly popular dive spot about 40 miles north of Loreto.
“The economic reasons are obvious, but certainly, they don’t justify the indiscriminate and illegal killing of these amazing sharks,” Cutter said. “I am very upset by this because I have worked for many years to educate local fisherman to protect their fishery, one that Jacques Cousteau once called, ‘The Aquarium of the World.’ “
This is somewhat surprising because Mexican scientists do not have many records of adult white shark captures in the gulf. Most involve specimens captured accidentally in nets. If commercial fishermen are now intentionally targeting white sharks, said renowned scientist Felipe Galvan-Magana, it could bode ominously for the species.
“I hope that Mexican authorities can do something to reduce this kind of fishing,” the researcher said.
Because of the remoteness of the area, there is little enforcement. But if white sharks are being hunted at such a rate, at risk to the species and the marine ecosystem, perhaps authorities should investigate–and soon.