- Education and Science»
- Elementary, Middle School & High School
"I Had a Hammer...It Escaped Me in the Morning!"
One of the Ocean's Great Sharks
Fishing for Hammerhead Sharks in the Cortez
Many moons ago, when the meaning of the sanctity of life was not as well defined within this writer, I used to fish a lot in Mexico's Sea of Cortez, also known as the Gulf and the poetic sounding Vermillion Sea. The hunting instinct, strong amongst the young, has now departed these ageing bones, and any sport or pastime that involves causing suffering or killing our fellow voyagers on this wondrous planet will never occupy my time again. Unless, of course, the planet takes such a downturn that we need to depend on the fish, beast and wildfowl we can again capture for our sustenance.
But all this philosophy and argument aside, I surely miss those days out of Guaymas, Sonora, when don Pedro, Marcos, his son and their Gringo pal headed out between the islands in Bocochibampo Bay, already towing a lure on a steel leader.
We rarely "bottom fished," that is, lowered a weighted bait to the sea floor after the denizens that fed there: the flatfish, groupers, eels, along with some of the less savoury citizens such as the Scorpion Fish and Sea Catfish.
The surface feeders we were after seemed so much cleaner and free of the deritus of the sea bed. These were bonito, good for making cerviche, barracuda, the greyhounds of the sea, and my favorite, the Sierra, or Spanish Mackerel at around three pounds and great eating.
Back then, the really great surface feeders, Marlin, Sailfish and Mako were the province of the wealthy fishermen with the large boats and were found further down Baja California - from La Paz, south.
But there was one other creature, a great and little known predator then, the Hammerhead shark. Hammer heads found something they liked in the upper Cortez because they proliferated there. Later information had it that they liked eating rays and bottom fish of which there were plenty. They schooled in the day and mainly hunted at night.
There has always been some doubt about their intentions. Were they safe to be in the water with and had they ever attacked man? No one really seemed to know.
Later, I found out one species can grow to an outstanding 18 feet in length and weigh in upward of 1000 pounds! And that three species out of the eleven found world-wide have attacked man, but no fatalities have resulted.
The hammerhead has eyes and nostrils at the ends of its extraordinary head - the 'hammer,' but a rather tiny ray-like mouth for a shark. In Hawaii, a center for the really dangerous sharks such as the Great White and Tiger, hammerheads are not feared but rather admired and actually worshiped.
There have been many theories to account for evolution's strange crafting of the hammerhead's weird head. It may have more acute distance gauging with the widely spaced eyes, and it has been seen using the aerfoil-like head to help it manouvre rapidly after the swift rays, also members of the shark family, (stingrays are its favourite with large hammerheads being captured with up to a hundred of the ray's barbs piercing their heads and jaw!).
With a long gestation perdiod of 11 months, mamma hammerhead finds it all worth while when she counts her up to 50 live-born young. To help with exiting the womb, the young fish have their heads turned back over the head like cute little earmuffs.
From what I can gather, the only member of the family truly dangerous is the Great Hammerhead, and where all sharks are concerned it is the giants species - or exceptionally large individuals of any species - that is usually responsible for severe or fatal attacks to man.
My experience of hammerheads came while fishing in the above mentioned Mexican waters when a squid bait I was slowly trawling was seized by what turned out to be a 350 pound hammerhead (estimated). It didn't fight really, but swam heavily away, time and time again, until giving up after about one hour. As it was reeled it in to our tiny boat and Marcos stood by with the gaff, I saw it had been just hooked, in the corner of the mouth. Its positively enraged eyes, seeming full of intelligence, engaged mine in the boat as I saw the hook literally fall out of its mouth as the tension went off the line. Exhausted, it rested by the boat (it was close to the same length!) for another 5 minutes before sinking gently into deep water. I was happy! The boat boys were glum! It would have been worth a good few pesos in Guaymas market, but I would have paid ten times as much to let it go!