Fisheries officers in Western Australia are investigating the illegal killing of several tiger sharks after the animals' remains were found scattered across two popular swimming beaches. Each of the recovered carcasses was missing its jaw, which the perpetrators likely collected to be sold as a trophy.


The remains were found dumped across Sandtrax and Port Beach in North Fremantle earlier this week, suggesting a deliberate attempt to scatter the evidence. However, team members with the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (Department of Fisheries) were able to reassemble enough of the dismembered animals to confirm they all exceeded the legal catch limit: any tiger shark caught in WA waters must be released immediately if the distance between its dorsal fins exceeds 70cm (28 inches).

Tiger sharks' hooked, "can-opener" teeth make very sellable curios, which, sadly, makes the jaws a covetable prize. But there's a reason behind the government's catch limit: the same large teeth and jaws valued by collectors tend to come from sharks that have the greatest potential to help replenish their own kind.

As with other shark species, tiger sharks mature extremely slowly, and the biggest individuals are often sexually mature females. Removing those individuals, therefore, can have a disproportionate impact on species recovery. 

"This illegal fishing activity is very concerning," Fisheries Minister Dave Kelly said in a statement. "I'm also disturbed the offender discarded the remains on a beach close to a swimming area. I've asked fisheries officers to fully investigate this matter."

If apprehended, the offenders could face a fine of up to AU$5,000. What's more, a secondary penalty equal to ten times the value of the fish could be applied for each protected shark taken. 

Image: Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development
Tiger shark head with jaw removed (left) and partial carcass (right). Images: Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development

Fears that the anglers' illegal fishing activity could "entice sharks" to local swimming beaches, however, are likely unfounded. Tiger sharks frequent Western Australia's coastal waters to feed mainly on sea turtles (and the odd sea snake or discarded rock lobster), and their presence in the area is not unusual.   

Sadly, this isn't the first time dismembered elasmobranchs have made headlines in Australia in the past twelve months. Melbourne residents launched a petition calling for stricter regulations after a number of mutilated fiddler rays (locally known as "banjo sharks") were found back in June. Some of the rays, which are harmless to human divers, were cut in half and left for dead.

Anyone with information that could aid authorities in the tiger shark investigation is encouraged to contact the Department of Fisheries immediately. 



Top header image: Shutterstock