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Hammerhead Sharks

Hammerhead Sharks

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Ausralian Hammerheads
Ausralian Hammerheads

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Published by: draculavanhelsing on Jun 26, 2010
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Fishnote

No: 34 January 2004

Hammerhead Sharks
Weird or Wonderful? - Some interesting facts about a strange looking shark
A. Beatty and N. J. Crofts, Fisheries Research, Darwin

INTRODUCTION
Hammerhead sharks are one of the most recognisable of all the shark groups due to the unmistakable and unique shape of their heads. It is unclear exactly why these sharks have developed this unusual feature. They are a highly successful and widespread group of marine predators. Their fearsome appearance and large size have earned them a rather menacing reputation. However, they are generally regarded as non-aggressive towards humans. Only a small number of large hammerheads have been recorded attacking people. Commercial fishing does not target hammerhead species in the Northern Territory. However, they are commonly caught as part of the bycatch. Their flesh and fins are a byproduct of fishing for other shark and fish species.

TAXONOMY AND DISTRIBUTION
Hammerhead sharks belong to the Family Sphyrnidae. Nine species of hammerheads are known worldwide (Last and Stevens, 1994), in two genera: Sphyrna and Eusphyra. Of the nine species, four occur off the coast of Australia and three species inhabit the waters around the Northern Territory: Sphyrna mokarran (Great hammerhead), Sphyrna lewini (Scalloped hammerhead) and Eusphyra blochii (Winghead shark). Hammerheads inhabit waters from the tropics to temperate regions, in a variety of marine environments, from estuaries and shallow inshore reefs to the deeper waters off continental shelves.

Figure 1. Winghead (reproduced, with permission, from Last and Stevens, 1994)

Winghead shark- Eusphyra blochii Size: Australian specimens are born at 45-47 cm and attain 186 cm. Males mature at about 108 cm; females at about 120 cm (Last and Stevens, 1994).

Figure 2. Scalloped hammerhead (reproduced, with permission, from Last and Stevens, 1994)

Scalloped hammerhead- Sphryna lewini Size: Australian specimens are born at 45-50 cm and attain 350 cm. Males mature at 140-160 cm; females at about 200 cm (Last and Stevens, 1994).

Figure 3. Great hammerhead (reproduced, with permission, from Last and Stevens, 1994)

Great hammerhead- Sphryna mokorran Size: Born at about 65 cm and attain 600 cm (although rarely exceeding 450 cm). In Australia, males mature at about 225 cm and females at about 210 cm (Last and Stevens, 1994).

BIOLOGY
Hammerhead species cover a wide range of sizes, with the smallest species growing to about 90 cm and the largest attaining lengths of around 6 m. Colouration varies only slightly between species, from light to dark grey, brown and sometimes olive above, and pale below. They are fast-moving pelagic sharks and feed on a variety of prey including fish, sharks and rays, crustaceans, squid and other marine animals. They have also developed an unusual way of catching one of their preferred prey, the stingray, which they pin down with the sides of their heads (hammers). The shark then turns rapidly to consume the flaps of the stingray while it is immobilised. The most obvious anatomical features of the hammerheads are the elongated and flattened lobes on the sides of the head that give these sharks their name. These odd shaped blades or wings probably increase the sharks’ manoeuvrability and speed through the water. With their eyes and nostrils further spaced, and the sensory pores distributed over a wide area, their sensory capabilities are also possibly more enhanced than in other sharks. Their bodies tend to be narrow and deep with comparatively tall first dorsal but short pectoral fins. Jaws and teeth are quite small in relation to body size. They are positioned underneath and extend forward of the eyes. All nine species are viviparous, i.e. they give birth to live, fully developed young. The number of pups varies between species, but all have moderately long gestation periods of up to 11 months.

© Northern Territory Government, 2006

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Characteristically, growth in most sharks is fairly slow and the time taken to mature is relatively long. For example, in 2003 a tagged black tip shark was recaptured in the Kimberley area off the Western Australian coastline. When first caught the specimen measured 820 mm. When it was recaptured 18 years later it was 1,170 mm, having an annual growth rate of 1.9 cm. Although the black tip is a small species compared with some hammerheads, this example indicates the slow growth rate of sharks in general. Two species, S. lewini and S. zygaena, are known to aggregate in large schools. Hammerheads appear to aggregate for migration and mating, but they have also been seen exhibiting normal resting behaviour in this way. Divers have often recorded huge groups schooling, with up to 200 specimens evenly spaced in a female dominated hierarchal order. The larger sharks keep in the centre and juveniles on the periphery. Although it is common to see these sharks in schools, they tend to disperse into smaller groups to feed.

Figure 4. Hammerheads schooling (photo courtesy of Mathias Espinosa, Scuba Iguana-Galapagos)

THE NORTHERN AUSTRALIAN SHARK FISHERY
The three species of hammerheads occurring in northern Australian waters were a component of the catch by Taiwanese boats using gill net and long lines up until 1986. The domestic shark fishery of today does not directly target these species due to the high concentrations of mercury accumulated in the larger sharks. They are, however, encountered as a bycatch species. This means that the flesh from the larger fish is not marketable for human consumption, although of the three species, the smaller individuals of the great hammerhead and scalloped hammerheads are edible. Fins are taken because they are a highly valued export commodity. The flesh is used as bait in other fisheries and also for making fishmeal for various uses.

© Northern Territory Government, 2006

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Figure 5. Large hammerhead shark removed from net by professional fisherman Due to the slow growth rate and relatively low reproductive potential, which is common to all elasmobranchs (sharks and rays), hammerheads have a low resilience to sustained fishing pressure. Little information is known about the stock structures and movement of hammerheads and what affects fisheries are having on local and global populations.

REFERENCES
Last, P.R. and Stevens, J.D. (1994). Sharks and Rays of Australia, pp 270-275. CSIRO Australia.

FURTHER SUGGESTED READING
Buckworth, R. and Clarke, R. (2002). Shark Fishery Status Report. Fishery Report No. 65, pp 65-70. Department of Business, Industry and Resource Development. Daley, R., Stevens, J., Last, P. and Yearsley, G. (2002). Field Guide to Australian Sharks and Rays. CSIRO Australia. Last, P.R. and Stevens, J.D. (1994). Sharks and Rays of Australia. CSIRO Australia. Lyle, J.M. (1984). Mercury concentrations in four carcharhinid and three hammerhead sharks from coastal waters of the Northern Territory. Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research. No. 35, pp 441-51. McAuley, R., Newbound D. and Ashworth, R. (2002). Field identification guide to Western Australian Sharks and Shark-like Rays. Department of Fisheries, Perth, Western Australia. www.fishbase.org – A biological database on fishes.
Department of Primary Industry, Fisheries and Mines © Northern Territory Government, 2006 ISSN 1035-008X Disclaimer: While all care has been taken to ensure that information contained in this Fishnote is true and correct at the time of publication, the Northern Territory of Australia gives no warranty or assurance, and makes no representation as to the accuracy of any information or advice contained in this publication, or that it is suitable for your intended use. No serious, business or investment decisions should be made in reliance on this information without obtaining independent/or professional advice in relation to your particular situation.

© Northern Territory Government, 2006

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