Salmon Sharks

Salmon sharks, found in Prince William Sound, are a species of mackerel shark that can grow to 6-9 feet long on average and weigh more than 500 pounds, feeding on salmon, squid and herring. They are one of the few fish that can regulate their temperatures with vascular countercurrent heat exchangers, which can elevate the sharks’ body temperatures to 10°F-15°F warmer than the surrounding water. Female sharks don’t reach sexual maturity until 8-10 years of age, and the male-to-female sex ratio is more than 2:1, so these sharks face natural challenges to sustainability.

Our guide, Boone Hodgin, said that over the past decade salmon shark populations have significantly declined due to external pressures including charter fishing and commercial bycatch, so they have become increasingly difficult to find. “When I first arrived here more than 10 years ago,” Hodgin said, “you could see hundreds of fins in Port Fidalgo during peak times in the summer — you could even see them from the deck while you sipped your morning coffee. But today, unfortunately, we sometimes struggle on the boat to locate more than a handful.”

Hodgin and his wife, Gina, have dedicated a lot of time and effort to trying to address this population decrease, but they have faced stiff opposition from locals and the fishing industry. Recent grassroot efforts, which focused on saving these amazing fish from extinction and creating a conservation fund, have stalled. Meanwhile, Alaska fishing regulations still allow sportfisherman to harvest up to two sharks per year. On the commercial side, salmon sharks are considered a nuisance that can damage fishing gear, and deliberate killing and injuring of salmon sharks has been reported.

While conservation efforts have focused on changing public opinion at the local level to support an end to killing these sharks for sport and through commercial harvest and bycatch, the new push is to create a shark-diving tourism industry that makes the sharks more valuable alive than dead. It is hoped these efforts — along with increased research, local advocacy, education and conservation campaigns — will prevent the extinction of these sharks.

© Alert Diver — Q4 2017