On the morning of July 9, nearly 100 dead bull sharks were found washed up on the shores of Alabama’s Mobile Bay — and nobody quite knows why.
Both locals and tourists awoke that morning to the sight and smell of dozens of dead sharks littered across the beach, according to Mobile’s WKRG news. One vacationing family told WKRG that they found 40 sharks inside a massive net, while the local Dauphin Island Sea Lab marine research facility claims to have 57 sharks in their possession. But all in all, the total number of sharks is unknown.
Likewise, no one — including officials from the lab — seems to know exactly how these sharks died and why they ended up on the beach. Officials hope to know more today, when the lab’s shark specialist will perform necropsies on the sharks.
The likely answer to this mystery is that the sharks were the victims of an illegal (or at least legally dicey) fishing operation, either purposefully or unintentionally. Some fishermen may have unexpectedly snared a large number of sharks after laying down a grill net meant to catch fish. Or, the fishermen may have been intentionally hunting these sharks for their meat and/or fins.
Though illegal across much of the world and heavily regulated elsewhere, shark finning remains a widespread problem, a brutal industry that brings in about $500 million per year.
While there’s no evidence yet that the sharks found at Mobile Bay were the victims of a finning operation, those on the beach deemed it a cruel scene nonetheless. As Melanie Rios, a tourist who found many of the sharks herself, told WKRG, “It seems like such a waste. I mean whatever was in the net, it seems like they took it, and then they left the poor sharks there to die.”
Whether it’s a huge unidentified sea creature or even severed human feet still in their shoes, the sharks at Mobile Bay may not be the strangest things to mysteriously wash ashore in the U.S. this year — but they might just be the saddest.