When Mike Pharr hit the record button last month to film a hammerhead shark gliding towards an oblivious swimmer, he assumed the two would pass by each other with no incident. Pharr was sipping on a coffee in a hotel room overlooking Florida's Panama City Beach and had a good view of the action. "Prior to the video, my mother tried to whistle and alert him [the swimmer] about the shark being close by," Pharr explained in the YouTube description of his video. "I told her to wait and it would probably swim on by and pay him [no] kind." Ordinarily Pharr's estimation would likely be correct: hammerheads are shy and elusive and typically avoid confrontation with anything that isn't food. And yet this shark turned on a dime and appeared to make a speedy charge straight at the bobbing swimmer:

The panic and shock from Pharr ("oh no, no, no, no, no, no") are palpable, but the hammerhead swivelled swiftly at the last moment to avoid clashing with the swimmer. "At first, it seemed as if the shark was going after the man," Pharr explains. "But upon reviewing I noticed that a small fish instinctively used the man as a shield to escape the shark." It seems the swimmer inadvertently wound up in the middle of a hammerhead hunt. Luckily for the targeted prey, the "human shield" did the trick and it managed to escape. The shark, however, had to look elsewhere for lunch. 

Hammerheads – sometimes called the Ferraris of the sea – have extremely flexible spines that allow for superb manoeuvrability and quick rotations in the water column. They're one of the most agile predators in the ocean, which comes in handy when feeding on speedy prey like stingrays and tarpon. 

Sadly, overfishing has decimated hammerhead populations and all species are currently endangered. Conservation efforts continue in Florida (and elsewhere) and recent surveys have revealed what could be a hammerhead nursery in Biscayne Bay, a popular spot for boating and fishing that suffers from pollution as a result of urban runoff. The fact that sharks can survive and possibly breed in these waters is important intel for researchers looking for the best ways to protect them.

Sharks are not only targeted by those looking to hook an apex predator, they often fall victim to attacks in the media where they are unfairly cast as ruthless killers. As we continue to grapple with effective solutions to minimise human-shark conflict, Pharr sums up his footage with some sage words: "It seems to me from watching my video multiple times that sharks really aren’t interested in us we just get caught up and are mistakenly targeted by being in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Top header image: David Biesack/Flickr