ST. PETERSBURG — The nine-foot bull shark caught by two teens off The Pier on Wednesday was pregnant with multiple pups, said a state scientist who performed a necropsy.
Brent Winner, an associate research scientist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, said he did not make an exact count, but bull sharks typically give birth to up to 12 pups.
The bull shark killing has prompted strong public reaction on tampabay.com, the Web site of the St. Petersburg Times, reinvigorating a simmering debate over the wisdom of catching declining species and killing them as trophies.
Some readers condemned the bull shark killing, while others point out that what the teens did was legal under state law, which limits shark fishing to one per person per day.
Joshua Lipert, 19, and Robert Korkoske, 16, spent two hours fighting to land the bull shark, one of the deadliest fish in the sea, then displayed it in the back of a pickup for curious onlookers in the parking lot of The Pier. They said they used sting rays as bait that they caught earlier.
The curator of the Pier Aquarium, which includes a shark exhibit, said he would have preferred it if the teens had released the bull shark. The teens said they planned to save the jaws as a trophy and might give the meat to relatives.
The killing comes on the heels of criticism of Capt. Bucky Dennis, who caught and killed a pregnant 1,060-pound hammerhead shark in early May so he could log another world record.
The empathy for two pregnant sharks, Winner said, might be the product of decades of public education.
"I guess to a certain extent society as a whole is becoming more sensitive to environmental issues," Winner said. "I think there have always been people who thought that way, but that whole Jaws persona — 'the only god shark is a dead shark' — cost an amazing amount of damage from a recreational perspective and a professional perspective."
Winner emphasized that Lipert was within his rights to take the shark, but wishes he'd relented when it became apparent it could be pregnant. Greater regulation to protect pregnant sharks is needed, he said.
"It would be difficult to enforce, but they do it for other fishes," he said. "They close fishing for other species in spawning season. If someone knew they caught a pregnant shark during pupping season, all they have to do is cut the line. It'll survive."
The incident came just two days after a reported shark attack near Pier 60 in Clearwater Beach.
Here's a sampling of anonymous reader comments about Wednesday's bull shark killing:
• "There is no RIGHT any person has to kill an animal other than the unwritten code of the southern redneck!"
• "What a SAD time we live in when some people actually hold the life of a shark in higher regard than that of a fellow human. It's a shark, its NOT endangered, it has been deemed perfectly fine to catch them. Write your REPS if you want it protected!"
• "I'm not a tree-hugger or anything, but if they weren't sure that someone was going to eat it, they should have let it go."
• "The less sharks chewing on people the better. Kill 'em all."
That last sentiment, however, appears to be dwindling, Winner said, 34 years after the movie "Jaws" terrified beachgoers.
The apparent shark attack — which one expert called a "grab-and-release" — of Dana Joseph at Clearwater Beach Monday did not keep people from heading back into the surf the next day.