Hammerhead Sharks

Hammerhead sharks are an iconic and endangered species inhabiting Australia’s waters. But they are under threat. To save our sharks, we need to implement stronger protection measures and reduce fishing pressure.


Threatened Status in Australian waters:

  • Great Hammerhead Endangered (Action Plan*); not listed (EPBC Act 1999)  
  • Scalloped Hammerhead – Endangered (Action Plan*); Conservation Dependent (EPBC Act 1999)
  • Smooth Hammerhead – Near Threatened  (Action Plan*); not listed (EPBC Act 1999)
  • Winghead – Vulnerable (Action Plan*); not listed (EPBC Act 1999)

*The Action Plan for Sharks and Rays 2021 is an assessment of extinction risk of 328 species found in Australian waters. Each species’ extinction risk was assessed by applying the IUCN Red List Categories at the national level (i.e. Australia only).


  • Great Hammerhead: NSW, QLD, NT, WA
  • Scalloped Hammerhead: NSW, QLD, NT, WA
  • Smooth Hammerhead: NSW, VIC, TAS, SA, WA
  • Winghead: QLD, NT, WA


About Hammerhead Sharks

  • The unique ‘hammer’ shaped head helps the shark zone in on prey by detecting the direction of a scent, and enabling it to see prey both above and below at the same time.
  • Like humans, hammerhead sharks are long-lived, reach maturity after several years, and have few babies. These characteristics make them particularly vulnerable to overfishing.
  • Australian hammerhead shark populations are in decline. Scalloped hammerheads are estimated to have lost up to ~80% of their original population in Australian waters (2).
  • Hammerhead sharks are particularly vulnerable to being caught in gillnets (fishing nets) because of the unique shape of their head.


Iconic Hammerhead Sharks in danger

Hammerhead sharks are being targeted in our commercial fisheries around Australia. Although it seems hard to believe, endangered scalloped and great hammerheads are still fished for fins and flesh in the waters of the Northern Territory and Western Australia. In 2023, the Queensland Government proposed changes that will see all hammerhead species protected in the waters from 2024. Until then, however, they are still caught in fishing nets in the Great Barrier Reef for fins and flesh.


Commercial fishing is the biggest threat to hammerheads, with 370t of hammerhead sharks legally allowed to be caught every year in Australian waters (1).

DNA tests of shark meat in Australian fish and chip shops have revealed that endangered scalloped hammerheads are being unwittingly consumed, often labeled generically as ‘flake’.

Take Action: Give Flake A Break

A number of hammerheads are not currently adequately protected from fishing under Australia’s nature laws, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act);

Scalloped hammerheads: despite low numbers which indicate they qualify for an ‘Endangered’ listing, they are listed under the ‘Conservation Dependent’ category. ‘Conservation Dependent’ is an odd category created specifically for fish which means commercial fishing can continue. It seemingly protects the interests of the commercial fishing industry by allowing continued fishing of threatened species, if a plan to manage the capture is in place. Under this category, 78 tonnes of hammerhead sharks can be caught in the Great Barrier Reef, more than in any other part of Australia.

Great and smooth hammerheads, and winghead sharks: are not listed and thus have no protection under the EPBC Act. However, Great and scalloped hammerheads are already listed as threatened species in NSW and it is illegal to fish for them in NSW state waters (5).

From a global perspective, the IUCN Red List, an international body that assesses the conservation status of wildlife, lists great and scalloped hammerheads as critically endangered, wingheads as endangered, and smooth hammerheads as vulnerable (3, 4). This shows why Australia is a ‘life-boat’ for these species and we must do all we can to ensure their safety in our waters.

There is concern that the number of hammerhead sharks killed in fishing is under-reported in fishing records, so we do not know how severe the issue really is - it could be worse than we imagine. Historically, fishery reports have only reported the number of ‘hammerheads’ caught, rather than giving the numbers of each species caught. This means there is limited information on the actual number of each of these threatened species caught in Australian waters.

International trade in these species is regulated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) convention. Any trade of CITES listed species must conform to a Non-Detriment Finding (NDF) which contains management guidelines to ensure the species survival is not threatened by trade. An NDF is a decision and report made by the Federal Government using information provided by an independent and objective scientific assessment of CITES listed species.

AMCS questions the findings in the NDF report that the current levels of hammerhead harvest are sustainable and instead recommends a more precautionary approach that restricts catch and prohibits export in light of:
- The lack of scientific data on population numbers, population range and impacts from outside Australian waters.
- Uncertainty around the numbers of hammerheads currently killed in Australian fisheries due to lack of reporting to species level, lack of bycatch reporting and possible illegal and unreported fishing.
The globally critically endangered (endangered in Australian waters) or vulnerable conservation status of the species, including in Australian waters (6)
- The life history characteristic of hammerheads (long lived, late maturing with few offspring) making them slow to recover from excessive fishing pressure.

As of November 2022, all hammerhead species were listed under CITES Appendix II. Furthermore, the scalloped hammerhead is currently being reviewed by the Australian Government for an escalation in listing to Endangered under the EPBC Act. Both of these factors will likely result in the Australian Government reassessing an NDF for all hammerhead species in 2024.

Hammerhead sharks are also threatened by culling through lethal shark control programs in QLD and NSW. Over six years (2012-2018), 592 hammerheads were culled, at an average of 99 per year (7). Hammerhead sharks have never been involved in a fatal incident.

Since 1937 in NSW and 1962 in QLD, lethal shark control programs have been carried out each year using either nets or drumlines. These methods are outdated and ineffective: since 2006 there have been two fatal shark bites at drumlined and netted beaches in QLD (2006 and 2020) (8). In NSW, there have been 24 unprovoked bites, including 1 fatality, at netted beaches (9).

AMCS will continue to advocate for policy change to better protect these magnificent, yet often misunderstood species. Some positive steps forward include listing of all hammerhead species, including endangered scalloped and great hammerheads, as ‘no-take’ in Queensland’s waters. This adds to the existing no-take rules in New South Wales, protecting them from targeted fishing for flesh and fins. 

The removal of Gillnets from the GBR is another major step forwards for species’ recoveries; the majority of gillnets will be removed at the end of 2023, saving around 50% of sharks caught per year in the Reef (or 150t of endangered hammerheads!). Removal of gillnets is a crucial reprieve for hammerheads on the east coast, and a major boost to their ability to recover in numbers. New Net Free Zones have also been proposed in the Gulf of Carpentaria.

However, there is still much more work to be done. In particular, the listing of scalloped hammerhead as ‘Conservation Dependent’ remains a major point of concern. The Australian Government needs to follow the scientific advice and put in place an Endangered listing for scalloped hammerheads to allow their populations to fully recover from the impacts of the commercial fishing industry.


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  1. Dept. of Environment and Energy (2014) “Non-Detriment Finding for the export of shark species listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and harvested from Australian waters”, Australian Government, Canberra.
  2. Simpfendorfer, C (2014) “Information for the development of Non Detriment Findings for CITES listed sharks”, James Cook University, QLD.
  3. http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/39385/0
  4. http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/39386/0
  5. https://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/fishing/species-protection/hammerhead-sharks-faq
  6. Kyne, PM et al. (2021) The Action Plan for Australian Sharks and Rays 2021. Hobart: NESP Marine Biodiversity Hub.
  7. Compiled data from QLD and NSW shark control programs. For NSW, see https://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/fishing/sharks/management/shark-meshing-bather-protection-program For QLD, see https://data.qld.gov.au/dataset/shark-control-program-shark-catch-statistics
  8. Taronga Zoo’s Shark Attack File https://taronga.org.au/conservation-and-science/australian-shark-incident-database