Terri Olah, one of the guides for Shark Diver Travel in Jupiter, Florida, is no stranger to sharks. The fearless diver grabbed the Dusky shark by its tail, twisting it to immobilize the marine predator before proceeding to take a pair of pliers to remove the hook.
“You feel like you are trying to do your part in undoing what we as humans have done to this big beautiful ocean and all the life that lives there,” Olah told Caters News. “We have abused it terribly.”
While Olah loves her job taking divers to exotic locations to have incredible photographic encounters with sharks, she is saddened by the damage to their environment caused by fishing trash and other pollution.
“Every time we dive there is one common denominator—sharks with plenty of hooks in their mouths with debris hanging from them or wrapped around them.”
The Dusky shark that Olah encountered in the Atlantic Ocean that day belongs to a species whose conservation status is listed as “Vulnerable,” Caters News reported.
Commercial and recreational fishing for Dusky sharks was banned in 2000 in the western Atlantic and Gulf, according to National Geographic; however, these sharks are “often accidentally caught on longlines and other fishing gear—with high mortality rates.”
For Olah, who has 20 years of diving experience, seeing sharks with fishing gear hooked in them is “heartbreaking.”
She said: “Some of these sharks when I go to feed them can barely open their mouths—I always make a point of trying to feed them more than the other sharks.”
It’s for this reason that Olah and her diving partner Leigh Cobb, a master instructor at the Shark Diver Travel, are always ready to perform shark surgery.
“I have a pair of pliers in the crate,” Olah said. “When we see a shark with a hook in its mouth we will always try to remove it without doing more damage.”
While they would like to take the time to liberate every shark of fishing tack, they can’t always do it safely.
“If the hook is really in there you may do more damage than good pulling it out, so it’s a judgment call,” Olah said. “We have seen many sharks with broken and mangled jaws from fishing hooks.”
However, encountering this Dusky shark off the Florida shore, Olah thought she could help the marine creature despite all the logistical difficulties. After she immobilized the animal by grabbing and twisting its tail, it began to sink. Olah and her diving partner had to try and wrest the hook from it while also keeping the shark from plunging out of the safe depth for their scuba equipment.
Thankfully, her many years of shark encounters helped her accomplish the feat.
“It’s such an amazing feeling when you get that hook out with all the line and wire leaders that are attached to it,” Olah said.
“It’s one less piece of plastic and garbage that we’ve removed from this incredible, misunderstood apex predator that is vital to a healthy ocean. We have abused it terribly,” Olah said.
Keeping the hook as a souvenir, Olah hopes the story will encourage everyone to think harder about our impact on the ocean and marine life.
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