Wildlife officials in Alabama have launched an investigation after over 50 baby sharks turned up dead on a state beach recently. The pups, identified as yearling bull sharks, were found piled in the surf, some still tangled in a discarded gill net. 

Bull sharks are one of the most common sharks found in the region, which is a known nursery for their young. While catching bulls (also known as Zambezi sharks) isn't illegal in state waters, the use of unattended gill nets most certainly is. 

"From what we could see, somebody had set a recreational gill net on the beach and the sharks were just swimming into the net and got tangled," Alabama Marine Resources director Chris Blankenship said in an official statement. "If [these] sharks aren’t moving through the water, they die."

Alabama Mobile Bay Map 2016 07 12
The sharks were found near Alabama's Mobile Bay.

Alabama is the only Gulf of Mexico state that still allows year-round use of gill nets, and though the number of annual recreational permits is limited to 500, events like this one highlight the potential dangers associated with their use.

The nets act like hanging curtains, suspended from surface to seafloor, awaiting incoming fish. Most local commercial gill-net fisheries target mullet and Spanish mackerel, but this find is a disturbing example of how accidental bycatch can affect sharks and other species. 

"It really shows there are a lot of juvenile sharks that use Mobile Bay, it's a very fertile bay," Blankenship said, adding that all unattended nets should be reported to state officials immediately. 

A total of 57 dead sharks were collected and turned over to biologists with the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, who will necropsy the animals for research. It's unclear whether the perpetrators will be charged if identified, but we'll be updating you as the story unfolds.

"There were no markings on the piece of gill net that was there on the beach," Blankership added. "So it's difficult to say whether the person that put it out had a license and if they were netting legally or not."

Editor's note: The following video identifies the sharks as blacktips; this is incorrect. 

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