Dead sharks found in snorkel and diving area at Phil Foster

Posted at 7:01 PM, Dec 09, 2016

"It's disturbing and it's disgusting."

A severed head of a nurse shark. It's what divers have seen at Phil Foster Park this week.

"Somebody caught a shark, they beheaded it, took the carcass home maybe for food... And then threw the head in the water," said EJ Morales, a local diver and wildlife photographer. "And that's the part that really shouldn't happen."

Shark conservationist Ryan Walton runs Deep Obsession Charters, which takes people on guided tours to see sharks in their environments. He frequently swims in the area where divers found not one, but two dead sharks this week.

"There are no laws to protect sharks here," he said. "More recently, you're seeing carcasses -- whether full or half -- in spots like the Blue Heron Bridge where we come to do a nice leisurely dive."

We spoke to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission about the issue. Amanda Nalley, a public information specialist for FWC, said if you're going to take a fish or shark by law, you can't let anything go to waste. You have to take it whole.

"It's a fine line with the laws," she said.

FWC says it's hard to crack down on every fisherman in the water. But if that severed shark's head -- which has a clean cut -- is from a fisherman FWC says that is illegal.

"You can actually gut the fish while you are out in the water, but if you were going to take a shark, you have to leave the head, tail and fins attached to that shark," said Nalley.

Nalley added that FWC is working on new protocol to better inform Florida fishermen of the laws.

"We are working on our shark handling guidelines and are working on the brochure that we want to get out to the public pretty soon," she said.

It's not illegal to fish for sharks but there are laws when it comes to throwing carcasses back in the water.

Divers like Morales don't understand why people are dumping around the dive sites.

"It makes me feel horrible, it's awful bad manners for fishermen to do that sort of thing," he said. "It's sad to see the area get trashed the way it is. I would like to see it protected, I would like to see it preserved."

"We shouldn't have to come see these types of things while we're trying to have a fun dive," said Walton.

Walton believes the problem comes from catch and release to take social media pictures. By the time the photo is taken, he says the shark can die from suffocation.

"There's not much you can do to stop a shark from biting your hook. It's what you do after that makes the difference," he said. "If you catch a shark, please get the hook out of it's mouth and let it go. You don't have time to take your picture for social media because the animal is going to die when you put it back in the water."

We also reached out to the PBC Parks and Recreation director, Eric Call, who said he was not informed of the issue but is checking into it.