Fishermen dream of wrestling down and finally reeling in a massive catch, but it takes a certain type to seek out and revel in a face-off with a 700 pound shark. For those who do, feel free to live vicariously through Viktor Hluben, a 22-year-old catch-and-release shark fisherman from Florida.
Last week, only a few hundred yards from the shore on an undisclosed south Florida beach, Hluben and a group of friends filmed themselves pulling in a 14-foot hammerhead shark, weighing an estimated 700 pounds. Hluben fought with his line for an hour and a half before roping the massive fish's tail and hauling it onto shore. The group then released the animal back into the waters, but not before pausing for a coveted group photo.
The intense video showed the group's excitement as the heavy hammerhead fought against their efforts to flip it over and drag it to shallower waters. The shark then appeared eerily calm as the group took turns posing with it.
"This is the biggest shark we've ever landed," Hluben told the Huffington Post. "There was a lot of adrenaline, a lot of pandemonium, but the first thing and the only thing we ever thought of was as soon as the fish hits the beach, it needs to go back in the water."
Hluben and his friends are self-described "big game anglers" with "conservation at the heart of their practice." They have been regularly catching and releasing sharks for four years, filming their excursions and sharing it on social media under the moniker Landshark Fishing. According to Hluben, they have caught and released almost every species of shark in Florida and have not killed any that they are aware of. Hluben said he and his group are "highly against the killing of sharks."
But for many viewers, the below video might be difficult to watch. The process of reeling the shark in seems both violent and dangerous. As Hluben's video has gone viral in the past week, many have asked the important question of whether or not his practice is safe for sharks.
Hluben definitely thinks so.
"I don't view it as inhumane or cruel," he explained. "Just as someone might catch a bass and release it. Sharks are open for catch and release fishing as well. These are not sensitive fish, they're very hardy. They eat stingrays with barbs and get barbs in them all the time."
Hluben and his friends use non-stainless steel circle hooks, as recommended by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, to help reduce injury and death of the released sharks. Studies done by NOAA Fisheries' in southern California show that using circle hooks, as opposed to the commonly used J-hooks, increases the shark's chance of survival after release. They are much less likely to cause life-threatening injuries because they embed themselves into the corner of the fish's jaw rather than piercing the throat or stomach as J-hooks tend to do.
While Hluben is cautious to keep his catches safe when released, studies show that catch-and-release fishing does, in fact, cause some level of harm to the sharks. Although the degree of injury and mortality rates depend on specific species and environmental factors, hammerheads appear to be especially vulnerable.
In a recent study led by the University of Miami's Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy and the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, researchers looked at five species of sharks' post-release survival and discovered that fighting on a fishing line significantly affected the blood lactate levels of sharks, which has been linked to mortality in many species. Hammerhead, the study shows, exhibited the highest levels of lactic acid buildup, even with minimal degrees of fighting on a fishing line.
“Our study also revealed that just because a shark swims away after it is released, doesn’t mean that it will survive the encounter," the study's lead author and Ph.D. candidate Austin Gallagher said. "This has serious conservation implications because those fragile species might need to be managed separately, especially if we are striving for sustainability in catch-and-release fishing and even in by-catch scenarios.”
The Sun Sentinel pointed out that the study, which implemented circle hooks, revealed that hammerheads were the most likely to die after being released, with 53.6 percent of them still alive four weeks after being caught (compared to almost 100% of tiger sharks).
"Our study," said co-author Neil Hammerschlag, "helps concerned fishermen make informed decisions on which sharks make good candidates for catch-and-release fishing, and which do not, such as hammerheads.”
Dr. Kim Holland of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology Shark Research Group echoed the concern, saying "I don't see how you can really say you are conservation oriented when you drag an animal onto the beach with a rope. In many cases, we know that even a moderate amount of handling will result in death even if you don't actually see it happen immediately in front of you."
What do you think? Watch Hluben's video and answer the poll below: