Wanted — dead or alive: The capture of an 11ft tiger shark on Challenger Banks this weekend attracted attention but researchers who have been tagging live tigers say the fish are more valuable alive. *Photo supplied

Wanted — dead or alive: The capture of an 11ft tiger shark on Challenger Banks this weekend attracted attention but researchers who have been tagging live tigers say the fish are more valuable alive. *Photo supplied

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A dangerous man-eater, a great source of shark hash or a symbol of human cruelty and the exploitation of the ocean?

The sight of an 11ft tiger shark being chopped up on a Somerset dock this week evoked powerful emotions.

While neighbourhood children jostled to have their pictures taken with the shark, others voiced concerns that an endangered animal had apparently been slaughtered for sport.

Michael Burke, who runs SCUBA firm Blue Water Diving, believes Bermuda should follow in the footsteps of Palau and the Maldives and protect sharks through legislation.

Hunters

He said: “I really don’t see the need to catch a tiger shark. There’s very little use for them. It is not a good eating fish.

“We don’t need to do that anymore. It is a different world we live in.

“Those images of hunters standing with their feet on a lion’s head as some sort of trophy, it is an anachronism.

“Palau has banned shark fishing, we could do the same. We did it for turtles in the 1800s, why not sharks?”

The only current restriction on shark fishing in Bermuda is a ban on removing the fins from live sharks at sea.

The Marine Resources Board has discussed the possibility of a more extensive ban but is awaiting the results of research before making a recommendation to Government.

The shark was caught on Challenger Banks, roughly 14 miles offshore on Sunday.

It was reeled in as part of the Robinson’s Marina Fishing tournament. Raymond Raynor, whose crew landed the 550lb fish, said he planned to use it for lobster bait and did not understand the fuss about his catch.

He added: “I don’t see a problem with it, the good Lord put them there for us to catch. I’m not worried about what people say.

“I would understand it if we were going out hunting for sharks every day.

“We weren’t doing it for glory. It just happened to take our line.

“People like to make a big deal over nothing sometimes.

“If a shark was to turn around and eat you, what would you say then?”

Mr. Raynor said most people on the dock were thrilled to see the shark.

He added: “People don’t see it every day. They might see it on television but not up close like that.”

Scores of pictures were posted on Facebook and a video of the shark being chopped up on the dock was published on website BerNews.

Mr. Burke, who is also a member of the Marine Resources Board, believes a “first step” for Bermuda could be to discourage such public displays on marinas.

Valuable

The Shark-Free Marina Initiative, an international pressure group, aims to reduce shark mortality worldwide by asking marinas to stop allowing the display and butchering of sharks on-site.

Choy Aming, a researcher and filmmaker with the Bermuda Shark Project, said sharks are more valuable alive than dead.

He added: “We don’t have a lot of them left. They are an apex predator and are integral to the ecosystem.

“We should have more sharks here than we do.

“I spend 60 hours each week out on the water and the only time I have ever seen a shark is when we have been chumming for them out on Challenger Banks.”

Mr. Aming believes killing sharks for “glory shots” is pointless. He said: “It is one thing if you are depending on it for a living but it is not really a commercially viable fish.

“I’m not against fishing — tuna and wahoo are marketable fish.

“Even marlin fishing has some value because of the tourism it attracts.

“Tiger sharks are fairly easy to catch but there is not much you can use them for except lobster bait.”

Mr. Aming said fishermen often catch tigers by accident but most put them back.

He and the Bermuda Shark Project team have caught and tagged 10 tiger sharks in the last 12 months.

The researchers have uncovered new data about the migratory patterns of Bermuda’s sharks.

They hope their findings will fuel future marine conservation policy.

The U.S.-based Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation is backing the research.

Mr. Harvey, a renowned angler and artist, will be on the island next week to see the Shark Project’s work first-hand.

In the U.S., Mr. Harvey has found a unique way of bringing conservationists and fishermen together.

His Ultimate Shark Challenge in Florida is a fishing competition with a twist.

The tournament, profiled in the Washington Post earlier this year, challenges anglers to catch, measure, tag and release sharks.

The tournament’s organizer, Shaun Paxton, said they had taken the “spectacle of dead sharks” out of the sport and replaced it with live video.

The competition allows anglers the thrill of fishing for sharks without killing them and has the added advantage that scientists can track the movements of the fish afterwards.

The size of the tiger shark pulled out of Bermuda’s waters this week came as no surprise to a team of island researchers who have been tracking them for years.

The 11ft fish, caught as part of the Robinson’s Marina Fishing tournament on Sunday, caused onlookers to stop and stare.

But sharks in Bermuda, though increasingly rare, are not uncommon.

Tiger sharks are seasonal visitors to the island, with the largest numbers found on Challenger and Argus Banks between July and October.

They rarely come inshore and you are unlikely to encounter one unless you are out on the banks deep-sea fishing.

Their habits, migratory patterns and even their numbers remain something of a mystery.

But scientists say they are crucial to marine ecosystems.

The Bermuda Shark Project has been tagging and tracking sharks in the island’s waters in a bid to answer key questions about the fish, which has existed since the days of the dinosaurs.

Ten sharks were tagged last year.

With funding from the Guy Harvey Research Institute and the support of Rhode Island University, 10 more will be tagged this year. Filmmaker Choy Aming made a movie about the project, A Tiger’s Tale, that premiered at the Bermuda Film Festival.

He said the latest tracking data showed the sharks are heading back in the general direction of Bermuda, having spent the winter in the Caribbean.

He added: “It looks like we may have stumbled across the first evidence of a tiger shark migration in the Atlantic.”

Mr. Aming said it is not a “Bermuda migration” as many of the sharks, tagged here last year, are still hundreds of miles away from the island.

But while some travelled as far afield as Puerto Rico, all are now heading north. The Bermuda Shark Project monitors their progress with satellite tags that send an electronic signal every time the shark breaks the surface.

The team, which includes vet and fisherman Neil Burnie, has secured funding to tag 10 more sharks this summer.

The aim of the project is to “de-monster” sharks and foster knowledge and understanding. The team hopes their research will get support for protecting tiger sharks and sharks in general.