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Texas Authorities Find Massive Shark Kill


Just off shore from South Padre Island in the Gulf of Mexico this week, Texas wildlife officials made a stunning discovery: the largest shark kill they've ever seen. Some 3,000 sharks, black tips, bonnet heads and sharp noses, all tangled in miles of illegal nets.

Sergeant James Dunks is a game warden with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and he found the sharks and he joins us on the line now. Thanks for being with us.

JAMES DUNKS: Well, thank you.

NORRIS: Could you describe for us the scene when you found these sharks? What'd you see?

DUNKS: Well, luckily, it was a nice, calm day offshore. You could just see a long string of cork floats and plastic floats, which usually is something illegal in the water, such as a gill net.

NORRIS: And that's how you noticed it? You saw something that just did not look right?

DUNKS: Yes, ma'am. You could pretty much just tell right away that it was a gill net.

NORRIS: What is a gill net?

DUNKS: A gill net is a monofilament material that is woven into four to... I've seen them up to eight-inch squares. It will have a cork line on the top that floats on the surface and then down below it is a lead line, which holds the net approximately 25 foot straight down. And anything that swims through there is going to get killed.

NORRIS: Do you know anything behind this mystery? Who set the nets and why did they leave the sharks behind?

DUNKS: Well, it's not 100 percent sure, but typically, people from a small fishing village south of the border from La Playa Bagdad come across to fish in our waters. They have just pretty much claimed that they have fished all their fish out of their end of the water, so that's why they've been coming across.

NORRIS: And what do they do with all these fish?

DUNKS: That is also undetermined, whether they're selling shark fins to Asian markets or eating it themselves or selling it locally. It's just hard to determine that.

NORRIS: Help us understand what exactly is illegal about this. Is the number of sharks that can be killed in these waters illegal? Is it the size of the net? What exactly are the laws?

DUNKS: Well, first of all, within the state of Texas, a gill net is illegal to possess, period. And then, on top of that, for sportsmen, the daily bag limit on shark is just one per day per angler.

NORRIS: So how is that so many sharks would move through those gill nets? Was it the time of the year or the time of day?

DUNKS: The time of the year, typically, we have - right outside the surf, you get a lot of baby sharks in the surf because that's where they come in to feed. Most of these sharks were one to two pounds apiece.

NORRIS: So they weren't - when we think of sharks, we think of massive animals. That was not the case here.

DUNKS: No. These were very, very small sharks. They just pretty much wiped out a whole generation of sharks right there in that one area.

NORRIS: So what will the investigation look like right now? I mean, how will you find the people who set these nets?

DUNKS: That's virtually not going to happen. We located the net, but we didn't locate anybody that was trying to harvest the fish on the net. But the first thing we want to do is get the net out of the water before it destroys any more of our resource.

NORRIS: And how will you do that?

DUNKS: We pull it in by hand. It took probably five hours to pull this net in onboard a 65-foot boat.

NORRIS: What happens to the 3,000 or so sharks that you pulled out of these nets?

DUNKS: If it's an edible resource, we usually try to donate it. But in this case, the fish was not in an edible condition, so it was pretty much just returned to sea as is.

NORRIS: This must be very frustrating for you.

DUNKS: It's very frustrating. Very frustrating, but that's what we're here for. We're just doing the best we can to protect the resource we have.

NORRIS: Sergeant Dunks, thank you very much for your time.

DUNKS: You're welcome.

NORRIS: That's Sergeant James Dunks. He's a game warden with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.