The capture last week of a gigantic great white shark in Mexico's Sea of Cortez was major news because of the size of the predator -- nearly 20 feet long and weighing at least 2,000 pounds -- but also because catches of adult white sharks in the gulf are considered rare.
Sadly, however, such catches appear to be increasingly common.
This week I was contacted by Erik Cutter, who supplied the top image showing two Mexican fishermen posing with a massive set of jaws extracted two weeks ago from a very large white shark near Loreto.
Loreto is on the Baja California side of the Sea of Cortez. The other catch reportedly was made off the mainland coast near Guaymas.
Cutter, publisher of Baja Life magazine and co-founder of the green-energy group EnviroIngenuity, has a home in Loreto and is acquainted with many locals and some commercial fishermen. The photograph, he said, was of a print photograph the fishermen had shared. They allowed Cutter to photograph the print if he promised to crop their faces.
Cutter was told that white sharks are being increasingly targeted for their jaws and fins, and that 13 large sharks have been killed during the past few weeks alone. Shark jaws are sold locally for about $1,500 per set, then re-sold by more entrepreneurial types for much steeper prices. A set of jaws like the one shown above might garner $10,000 or more.
This is alarming because white sharks are embattled and highly-protected in Mexico -- as in the U.S. -- and because portions of the Sea of Cortez are now recognized as important nursery areas for the species.
The capture off Guaymas (see photo at right) was by fishermen who claimed to have accidentally caught the behemoth in their nets.
Cutter said that fishermen north of Loreto use baited hooks beneath air-filled barrels, and that hooked white sharks eventually tire and drown before they're taken ashore.
In a news release Cutter stated, "Commercial fishing has become so difficult in the Sea of Cortez that several of the few remaining commercial fisherman are so desperate that they are now targeting the ocean’s greatest predator, the Great White Shark.
"According to a very reliable source, at least thirteen mature Great Whites between 16 and 22 feet long, some estimated to weigh more than 2,200 pounds, [were] slaughtered for their fins and their jaws."
Much of the fishing is said to occur off Isla Ildefonso, an increasingly popular dive spot about 40 miles north of Loreto.
"The economic reasons are obvious, but certainly, they don’t justify the indiscriminate and illegal killing of these amazing sharks," Cutter said. "I am very upset by this because I have worked for many years to educate local fisherman to protect their fishery, one that Jacques Cousteau once called, 'The Aquarium of the World. ’"
The fishermen, obviously, know of no other way to make a living, and because of the remoteness of the area there is little enforcement. But if white sharks truly are being massacred at this alarming rate, at risk to the marine ecosystem, perhaps the Mexican authorities should investigate--and soon.
-- Pete Thomas