TAMPA — It took Zach “Hammer” Miller about 90 minutes to pull a 14-foot, roughly 1,300-pound hammerhead shark to shore.
As important to Miller as landing the powerful fish was that he released it in about 90 seconds, long enough to snap a picture without further stressing the shark. Miller, 26, who caught the hammerhead at Boynton Beach a few years ago, told the story Sunday afternoon during the first Shark Con at the Tampa Convention Center. The weekend event raised awareness of ocean and marine life preservation.
“You need multiple people” when shark fishing, said Miller, a member of Team Rebel Fishing. “If you get the shark up in the wash and there’s breaking surf, the shark can be rolling around and still dangerous. You rope the tail and move back; it’s all about saving time.”
Shark-Con founder Spencer Steward organized the event because several species of sharks are nearing extinction, oceans are being polluted and reefs are being damaged. Several vendors said that foot traffic at Shark Con was relatively slow on Saturday, due to weather, but a steadier stream of people flowed through the exhibits on Sunday.
Anthony Burnett, of Land O’ Lakes, wore a black T-shirt with the words: “I Survived Sharknado,” a reference to the widely panned 2013 television movie that married natural disasters and sharks in a tale of unfathomable horror.
Burnett said he attended Shark Con with wife Tasha Burnett because he has always been fascinated by “the mysteries of the ocean.”
A Denver native, Burnett said he is particularly interested in sharks.
“They’re in their own environment,” he said. “We study them all the time, but there’s still a lot we don’t know about them.”
Shark Con included fishing and stand-up paddleboard clinics, a presentation on Lowry Park Zoo’s manatee rescue and rehabilitation efforts, panel discussions on conservation, preservation and research, as well as talks by conservationists, researchers and an underwater photographer. There were also children’s activities, including a mechanical shark ride.
Larry Beggs, vice president of Reef Ball Foundation, distributed information about the non-profit organization’s efforts with a smile on his face and a plush shark toy atop his head.
“We’re trying to protect the natural reefs,” Beggs said, adding that the foundation has done work in 65 countries since its inception 22 years ago. “We replenish them with more natural (material). We don’t use metals and toxins.”
The foundation uses “a pH-neutralized marine-grade concrete” to produce “Reef Balls,” which replace damaged reefs, Beggs said.
Miller, who caught the large hammerhead at Boynton Beach, attracted a crowd during Sunday’s demonstration with Sean and Brooks Paxton, known as “The Shark Brothers.”
If an angler is able to hook a shark, Miller and the Paxtons stressed that the fish be released humanely.
“You never know what’s going to bite your line,” Miller said. “You have to be able to handle it correctly. Just take a picture and let it go. That picture will last a lifetime and you’ll help sustain the fishery.”