South Carolina officials are attempting to track down the source of two disturbing photos of “branded” sharks.
The photos appear to show the image of a hook in the shape of a stylized “J” or “F” on the skin of two small sandbar sharks.
“[Branding is] a violation of at least one state law and potentially federal regulations,” Mel Bell, fisheries management director of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, told Charleston publication The Post and Courier. “I’ve never seen anything like that in my life.”
The brands appear to have created with a propane torch or “freeze branded” with dry ice, according to the publication.
Sharks are sometimes tagged by biologists or anglers so they can be tracked for research. But such tagging is done as humanely as possible with markers that don’t harm the fish.
Branding a shark “can definitely be harmful to the animal,” marine biologist Bryan Frazier of the SCDNR told Live5 News. “In addition to causing pain to the animal, it damages the skin and secondary infection could weaken or cause the death of the animal.”
Frazier said sandbar sharks are being overfished. Sandbar shark recreational fishing is prohibited.
A mutilated shark carcass was found earlier this month on a beach north of Hilton Head. Cuts on the 200-pound juvenile tiger shark were made by a human but not by scientists, officials said.
“It’s a bit perplexing to see why anyone would do this,” Frazier told The State newspaper. “You hate to see anything killed for no reason.”