Woman who caught shark that died speaks out

Posted at 6:26 PM, May 12, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-13 06:51:07-04

The woman behind a controversial hammerhead shark catch on Fort Myers Beach is speaking out about the incident, after coming under attack by animal activists.

The group Sharks After Dark blasted Lauren Dondero of Fort Myers after they said she kept the shark out of the water too long before releasing it. The shark later died and washed ashore.

Dondero said that a Mother's Day fishing trip with her son got exciting when she hooked something she'd never had on her line before.

"When I picked up the reel, I realized it was a big fish," said Dondero, who describes fishing as a passion. "It was the most exciting feeling in the world seeing a hammerhead."

The shark put up quite a fight, and led her far down the beach, away from her gear. When she finally got it ashore, she posed for photos with the hammerhead. Dondero said it was probably out of the water for about ten minutes.

"We walked that shark back into the water and nursed her back in, and she swam off," she said.

But when the animal activist group Sharks After Dark found out that the hammerhead had later washed ashore dead, they blasted Dondero on Facebook, and to Fox 4.

"You don't pull a hammerhead all the way up onto the beach," said Melinda Colon with Sharks After Dark. "You don't let it dry out and you definitely don't sit on top of it to take photos."

Dondero said that after she heard the shark had died, she felt awful, but contacted Florida Fish and Wildlife officials to explain what happened: she wasn't able to get to her hook-removing tools quickly enough, since she was led so far down the beach during the hour and a half it took her to reel the shark in.

"I called FWC immediately and let them know that I'm the one that caught it, and I was really upset about it," Dondero said. "I was crying for that shark."

She said that other anglers have reached out to her for tips on how to keep hook-releasing tools like channel-locks easier to access when a big fish takes her far down the beach.

Yes, I made a mistake, and I apologize," Dondero said. "Now I know what to do next that will improve my fishing."

An FWC spokesman said that there will be no investigation into the incident.