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Rare Hammerhead Shark Caught Off Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Niki  Cervantes
Staff Writer

August 11, 2015 -- A hammerhead shark was caught by a fisherman at the Santa Monica Pier on Saturday, a rare event that experts are attributing to the warm waters associated with El Nino.

“This is the first time I’ve seen this, and I’ve been here 65 years,” said John Volaski, one of the owners of Santa Monica Pier Bait and Tackle.

“The warm waters are attracting them,” said Kenichi Haskett, public information officer for Los Angeles County’s lifeguards services, a division of the county fire department.  “There’s just a whole lot of marine life (around the pier) for them to feed on.”

 Judging from a photograph posted on the internet, Haskett said, the hammerhead looked like a juvenile and under six feet in length. He said the younger hammerheads are attracted to the small fish and bait around the pier.

Matthew King of the Santa Monica-based Heal the Bay said that judging from the photo the hammerhead “was a kid. It looked undersized.”

It was not immediately known which of the several species of hammerhead sharks the one caught off the Pier belongs to.

Although far from common, hammerhead shark sighting have been occurring more off the Southern California coast in recent years. The sharks are distinctive for their oddly shaped heads, which are flattened and laterally extended into a hammer-like shape.

Three species of hammerhead sharks are known to inhabit California waters, but sightings are rare. Two hammerheads were spotted in July 2013 off Dana Point in Orange County, one of which appeared to be about six-feet long.

“These are strange times,” Chris Lowe, a professor and head of the Shark Lab at Cal State Long Beach, told the Orange County Register.

Unseasonably warm waters, Lowe said, are the attraction. About this time last year, local ocean temperatures topped 76 degrees, about 10 degrees warmer than average. Lowe said marine life is sensitive to weather trends.

During the past two decades, there have been a string of shark sightings in waters off South Bay beaches, including the July 1978 sighting of a rare hammerhead shark near the Manhattan Beach Pier.

Experts say hammerheads show little interest in humans. Scalloped hammerheads are a critically endangered species worldwide. Their population has been depleted by demand for their fins, which is used to make shark fin soup.

In general, hammerhead sharks reside in tropical and temperate seas, but are said to start showing up in Southern California waters when the water turns unusually warm. There were sightings reported in Southern California waters during strong El Ninos in the early 1980s and late 1990s.

Scalloped hammerhead sharks, which are found in the Gulf of California, Mexico, are said to be particularly susceptible to being caught by fishing nets as they move into open sea.

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