Accounting for components of fishing mortality, including post-release mortality (Fr), is necessary for robust assessments of the effects of fishing. Forty-eight blue (Prionace glauca) and 35 silky sharks (Carcharhinus falciformes) were tagged with pop-up satellite archival tags to monitor Fr rates from pelagic longline vessels in the western tropical Pacific Ocean. There is a paucity of Fr studies at low latitudes and identifying factors that significantly explain Fr is critical for understanding fishing mortality. Mean Fr rates were 0.17 [95% CI 0.09–0.30] for blue shark and 0.20 [95% CI 0.10–0.36] for silky shark. When it occurred, Fr was acute with 87% of mortalities within 2 days of release. Several prognostic operational, environmental, biological and handling variables were evaluated to assess their influence on survival outcomes. Using Kaplan–Meier survival curves, logistic regression, accelerated failure time and Cox proportional hazards models to screen variables, the only significant prognostic or risk variable was health condition at haulback. There was close correspondence (~ 83% accuracy) between condition at capture and survival outcomes. Reliable methods to classify at-vessel condition represent an inexpensive and simple metric for estimating both Fr and at-vessel (Fc) mortality rates. Examining Fc rates in detail in longline fisheries using capture information on depth, temperature and dissolved oxygen that may act in synergy with condition code and hooking duration is a research priority. Results suggest that a large proportion of shark survive following release and that Fr rates can be increased by improving the haulback condition of captured sharks.