QUITO, Ecuador -- Researchers in Ecuador say they have discovered a "nursery" of hammerhead sharks off the coast of the Galapagos Islands, a find that may help them track and protect the endangered predators.
The head of the project, Eduardo Espinosa, said the group had found 20 hammerheads in the area along Santa Cruz island, and was able to attach monitors to five of them.
"That site, where the babies spent two or three years, is important not only for the Galapagos but on a world scale because it gives hope for the protection and conservation of a species," he said.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature lists hammerhead sharks as endangered species that have suffered sharply declining numbers in recent years around the world. They are vulnerable partly because they breed relatively few times, their schools are sometimes caught in fishing nets and their fins are prized in Asian markets.
Marine biologist Alex Hearn of San Francisco University in Quito said researchers had believed that the hammerheads gave birth along continental coasts, so the discovery of the island nursery opens new lines of study.
The hammerheads are an attraction for divers visiting the Galapagos, about 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) west of the mainland, and an image of a hammerhead is part of the Galapagos National Park's emblem.