The YouTube videos go something like this: An angler -- often in Florida, typically male, giant pole bent almost double -- exclaims there's a hammerhead shark on the end of his line. After an "epic fight" with the predator, the shark is hauled onto the sand to be measured, posed with and finally cut free.
Several hooked hammerheads have been dragged across the internet this spring. To hear some of the shark anglers say it, catching the hammerheads helps spread a message of conservation. One video, for example, starts with a disclaimer of sorts: "We are a group of big game anglers with unconventional methods and conservation at the heart of our practice."
But when their "unconventional methods" involve pulling hammerhead sharks on to the beach, the fishermen not only break Florida law -- they also risk putting the animals under lethal amounts of stress.
It's unclear just how many great hammerhead sharks remain swimming off the Florida coast, but their numbers have dwindled in the past ten years, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which lists the sharks as an endangered species. In response to this decrease, great hammerheads became protected under Florida law in 2012. This means it's illegal to delay a hammerhead's release, including posing for photos, points out shark biologist David Shiffman.
Moreover, when a hammerhead shark spends too much time on the end of a fishing line, the fish's prognosis is grim. Of five shark species, hammerheads react the poorest to being caught, University of Miami marine biologists describe in a report published in January.
Hammerhead sharks showed the highest physical indicators of stress during capture, according to the study (watch the University of Miami's video explainer here). And based on satellite tracking data, the scientists believe up to 46 percent of hammerhead sharks didn't survive after four weeks of their release.
Catch-and-release harms hammerhead sharks, in particular, because they resist so ferociously -- they're strong swimmers, even among sharks. "They're like the Ferraris of the ocean," says Austin Gallagher, a PhD student in marine biology at the University of Miami, in the video.
At the end of the day, what's the best course of action for an angler who's snagged a hammerhead? It might not make for dramatic YouTube fare, but simply cut the line and leave the apex predator off the beach.