Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks

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About Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks

Scalloped Hammerhead sharks are one of the top predators in the ocean, that use their unusually-shaped heads to improve their ability to catch prey. The wide-set eyes of the hammerhead give them a better visual range than most other sharks. And these sharks, by spreading their highly specialized visual sensory organs over their wide, mallet-shaped head, the Hammerhead Sharks can more thoroughly scan the ocean for food.

Scalloped Hammerhead sharks form schools that usually number 10-20 individuals. But these schools sometimes number as many as 200 individuals, which is very unusual for a species of sharks. Oddly, the hammerheads only schools during the day, and then they always spend the nights separated from each other, hunting alone. Another interesting fact is that there seems to be an established order of dominance in every hammerhead school, where the “rank” of each individual Hammerhead shark is determined by factors such as it size, age and sex. No one knows why the Hammerheads choose to live in large schools during the day.

Where to See a Hammerhead Shark

The best place in the US to see scalloped hammerhead sharks is Molokai, Hawaii. The best two dives sites are Fish Rain and Fish Bowl, both off the Mokuho’oniki Rock, where the chance of seeing schooling Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks is better than probably anyplace else in the United States.

I spoken to several divers who have done the dive, and they all state that it is a difficult dive due to the currents in the channel -- but if the hammerheads are present, it is one of the most memorable dives ever.

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Hammerhead Shark

Endangered Status of Hammerhead Sharks

In 2008, the scalloped hammerhead was added to the list of "globally endangered" species. Research done by numerous investigators has shown that the scalloped hammerhead populations have declined by over 95% in the past 30 years. The main reason for this decline is the rising demand for shark fins. Over the last few decades, there has been a sharp growth in demand for shark fins as an expensive delicacy (such as in shark fin soup). While this demand is highest in China, many restaurants in the USA still serve shark fin soup. It is extremely important that a ban is placed on the practice of Shark finning, in which the shark's fins are cut off and the rest of the animal is thrown back in the water to die. Better still would be a ban on the serving of shark fin soup.

Unfortunately, Hammerhead sharks are among the most commonly caught sharks for finning. Their fins are highly valued and they are being increasingly targeted in some areas in response to increasing demand for shark fins. Hammerhead sharks were found to represent at least 4-5% of the fins auctioned in Hong Kong, the world's largest shark fin trading center, in 2006. Hammerhead shark fins are given a high value compared to other shark species because of their high fin ray count. It is estimated that between 1.3 and 2.7 million hammerhead sharks are caught for the shark fin trade every year. See the IUCN Redlist Entry on Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks for more information.

Scalloped Hammerhead Shark Range

USA Range

Scalloped Hammerheads are found through out the entirety of the eastern US waters of the Atlantic Ocean, as well as the entirely of the Caribbean. Scalloped Hammerheads are also found throughout the Hawaiian Islands. Oddly, they are not found on the Pacific coast of the USA, one of the few places in the world that they are absent.

Molokai, Hawaii

Let me compare Molokai vs. Molokini. Molokini is a visually spectacular dive with lots of reef fish, near 100% coral cover in places and as a result, probably the quintessential dive if you are on Maui. It is also fairly benign with visitors ranging in skill level from snorkelers with lifejackets to fairly advanced divers drift diving the back wall. By contrast, Molokai is all about hammerhead sharks. You might also see tuna, dolphins, and galapagos sharks, but the hammerheads are the star attraction. It is also an advanced dive. You will be dropped off effectively in the middle of the Pailolo Channel which, even on a nice day, is much rougher than most days at Molokini. The ride to and from Molokai generates a lot of lost lunches.

Molokai is a high energy dive with a live drop off (moving boat) and lively pickup. Getting there means chopping through a channel that turns the residual sea state up to eleven. It isn't like you are diving in a bay or some protected area, that same magnified chop that turned everyone green on the bounce out is what you jump into. The first tie I dived it there was a hell of a current, the second time not so much. You drift along staring out into the blue and scanning the bottom from ~80 feet, then follow the action from there. And don't touch the unexploded ordinances on the bottom (not kidding-there are bombs down there). It is a heck of an experience and I highly recommend it-if you are up for it. It is the best place to see Hammerheads. -- Michael Kazma

Another thing with Molokai is there's a chance you may not see anything. Sure, the same is true for pretty much whenever you get in the water, but at least for Molokini, there's still coral/etc to look at. From what I remember, the Molokai site (for hammerheads) is primarily a sandy bottom. I got skunked there last time (which is why I mention it), though there was a pod of dolphins jumping around us while waiting on the surface for the boat. A previous trip, we did see a dozen or so hammerheads. --- BSOD

Molokai is your best chance to dive with Hawaii's pelagics such as schooling hammerhead sharks, large barracuda, and schools of jacks. This is one of our more advanced dives, blue water descents from a live boat and often times rough seas can make for an adventure you'll never forget. Lahaina Divers

Lahaina Divers, which offers daily advanced and beginner dive trips, can take you to Molokini Crater, or to Molokai, where hammerhead sharks abound. Some dive shops (the ones selling boat trips) will tell you that there are no good shore dives on Maui. Don't believe them! Fedor's

Fish Rain is the top dive site for hammerhead sharks. Fish Rain Review

Layang Layang Island, Malaysia

It is a long way away, and takes a lot of planning to get to, but Layang Layang Island is an island world renown for its large numbers of schooling scalloped hammerhead sharks. Layang Layang is small coral atoll in the South China Sea, off the coast of Malaysia. Numbers are very limited due to the low availability of flights, which only operate once a day a few days a week from Kota Kinabalu. So if you want to share in this breathtaking wonder, I suggest you plan your trip well in advance. There is only one dive resort on the island: Layang Layang Island Resort.

Easily the biggest drawcard for Layang Layang is the world famous and enthralling encounters with schools of scalloped hammerhead sharks, which occur frequently in its surrounding waters. It is one of the great sites to see Hammerheads. Being lucky enough to watch a big school of hammerheads glide by is an experience that will live with you for a very long time, and makes the whole journey worthwhile.

Other Great Dive Sites

According to Dive the World, the best places to find scalloped hammerhead sharks include: Cocos Island off of Costa Rica, Madivaru Corner in the Maldives, the Galapagos Islands, Komodo National Park in Indonesia, and the coast of Malaysian Borneo. The coast of Malaysia features oceanic islands and deep water atolls, the most well known of which is Layang Layang, and is among the best locations for sightings of hammerheads. All of these dive sites are in an area which features nutrient-rich deep sea upwellings, and thus bring scalloped hammerhead shark as a regular visitor. See Dive The World.


Lahaina Divers Video

Lahaina Diving

Fish Rain Review