We were scanning the East Cape coastline, waiting to get another glimpse of a shadow of a roosterfish, when two pangas began heading our way. They gunned it right before they hit land and launched themselves high up onto the sand, an expeditious anchoring technique for stoutly built working boats. Four men in rain gear piled out and began throwing sharks onto the shore. Two hammerheads and nine blue sharks, the largest of which was about seven feet long, soon lined the beach and the fishermen wasted no time in getting to work.
They honed their knives on stones and were soon carving the fish into marketable pieces. Like surgeons, they expertly carved away the fins, then gutted and beheaded them without a wasted motion. As their blades dulled, they would hone them again on nearby shark leather. In seconds, the first eight were carved, cleaned and back in the boat.
As they slit open the belly of the eighth, they looked up at us and asked us to put away the camera; “now there is a problem” the man told us in Spanish. The problem was the sac of unborn baby sharks that spilled onto the ground before us. More than a dozen fell to the ground and were thrown to the flocking frigatebirds. They explained that the last two sharks were pregnant as well, so what began as 11 dead sharks, turned out to be closer to a hundred dead sharks. They were very polite and friendly all the while, but we decided that it would be a good time to leave them to their business at this point.
We walked away amazed at the skill of the butchery, appalled by the scale of destruction, and wondering at the financial motivation that impels these fisherman to take the risks that they do. The market for shark fins is obviously still a strong one.