Scientists discover hidden nursery for hammerheads

Hammerhead in Durban aquarium. Photo: Cristiano Deana/Flickr Creative Commons.

GALAPAGOS ISLANDS (ECUADOR)- In the waters surrounding the remote archipelago of the Galapagos Islands, Ecuadorian scientists has discovered a hammerhead shark nursery where they have been born and sheltered for nearly a million years.

The Galapagos Islands lie in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, about 1,000 kilometers off South America’s Pacific coast. This unique area is famous for its remarkable biodiversity and of course Darwin’s theories of evolution.

Now it turns out to play an important role for the endangered hammerhead sharks. For several years now, park rangers in the region have been monitoring and tagging hundreds of sharks at the marine reserve, which was named as a Natural Heritage site.

Scalloped Hammerhead Shark (Sphyrna lewini)Natural nursery

Female sharks arrive in the nursery area to give birth and then leave again. “The young have all the food they need here and the reefs afford protection from large predators”, Eduardo Espinoza, the biologist in charge of monitoring ecosystems in the Galapagos Marine Reserve, told AFP. “It was quite by chance that we found this natural nursery for baby hammerheads, a species that is under a high level of threat,”

The hammerhead sharks grow as long as three meters and live for up to 50 years. After a year or two, when they are grown and are in need of more food, they travel, sometimes for thousands of kilometers.

Ban on fishing

The young hammerheads can grow up in relative safety in this area. In 2016, the government of Ecuador added extra protections for the species’ preservation by creating a 38,000-square-kilometer sanctuary zone between Darwin and Wolf islands, where all fishing is banned.

Read more on the discovery of the nursery.