Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Sharks of the Chesapeake

If you weren't already slightly nervous about what types of things are swimming below the surface of the water at your favorite swimming spot, I'm about to make you that way.  
Here is a list in order of their threat to humans level (lowest to highest).

Smooth Dogfish-
Prefers shallow water where it scavenges and feeds on crustaceans and small fish.
Average 3-4 ft in length.
One of the most abundant sharks on the East Coast.
The dogfish poses no threat to humans due to its small size and blunt teeth.

 Hammerhead Shark-
Average size of 2-4ft though some range 6-13 ft.
Favorite food is stingrays.
Not considered a threat to humans.

Sandbar Shark caught by my mother
Sandbar Shark-
Found in grassy, shallow protected areas and sandbars.
Grows to 7ft but the juveniles that are typically found in the Bay are about 2-3 ft.
Visits the Chesapeake in the Summer and Autumn months.
Primarily found in the Virginia waters of the Bay but sometimes found in Maryland waters.
Most common shark found in the Bay.
The Chesapeake is the most important Sandbar Shark nursery on the East Coast.
There are very few reports of unprovoked attacks on humans.
Atlantic Sharpnose Shark-
Feeds on small bony fish, worms, and crabs.
Their mature size is around 3 feet long.
 They are considered a moderate threat to humans as they often come into contact with humans due to their habitat.
 However, most bites inflicted on humans by this shark are nonfatal and not serious.

Dusky Shark-
Migrates towards the Bay in the summer months.
One of the most sought after sharks for the fin trade.
Averages about 12ft in length.
Preys primarily on bluefish but feeds on many other species of fish, stingrays and crustaceans.
Considered a threat to humans due to its size.  
The International Shark Attack Files lists it as responsible for six attacks on people and boats, three of them unprovoked and one fatal (none in the Bay).

Nurse Shark-
Average size of 7-10ft but can reach 14ft.
They are nocturnal and are often found resting on the sea floor during the day.
Their diet consists of crustaceans, mollusks, small fish and stingrays.
They are bottom feeders.
Nurse sharks usually are non-aggressive and swim away rather than bite.
However, there have been unprovoked attacks reported by swimmers and divers.
Their bite is powerful and has a vice-like grip capable of serious injury.

Tiger Shark-
Named for the dark vertical stripes seen on juveniles.
Grow to 10-14 ft and live for 50 years.
Referred to as the "wastebasket of the sea" because of its reputation for eating anything, including trash.
Know as man-eaters, they are second only to Great Whites for number of attacks on humans.
And because they aren't picky eaters, they're less likely to swim away after biting a human unlike the Great White.
(We found a Tiger Shark tooth on the beach of Shark Tooth Island so they're around)

Bull Shark-
Average size is 7-12 ft.
Bull Sharks are known to be aggressive and are known to frequent shallow water.
They also spend time in brackish and freshwater and are probably responsible for most near-shore shark attacks attributed to other species.
Because bull sharks dwell in shallow water, they may be more dangerous to humans than any other sharks and along with Tiger sharks and Great Whites its among the top three sharks species most likely to attack humans.
Before you try to tell yourself Bull sharks couldn't possibly be found in the Chesapeake Bay, read this article about two 8ft Bull Sharks that were caught in the Potomac River.

According to the International Shark File, Virginia has had 5 total reports of unprovoked shark attacks with 1 of those being a fatal attack of a 10 year old boy back in 2001.  The attack occurred in the Atlantic Ocean near Virginia Beach in approximately 4 feet of water.  It's thought the shark was a Bull shark.

Happy Swimming!


  1. everyone on the work boat in the Bay that July afternoon 3 yrs ago can tell you how funny it was when i yelled SHARK! after seeing a dolphin (or maybe it was a porpoise) ...

  2. Hooray. Even more reason to use a rubber ducky float, as if we needed any other excuse.

  3. There are actually 12 shark species in the Chesapeake, and the Tiger usually doesn't count (it's been found only once in Bay waters; its much more common in VA Beach). Dr. Jaws or Chesapeake Bay Program are pretty good sources of info on these guys. Here's a short list:

    Bull Shark [dangerous, uncommon]
    Sandtiger [potentially dangerous, common]
    Sandbar Shark [potentially dangerous, common]
    Dusky Shark [potentially dangerous, uncommon]
    Smooth Hammerhead [potentially dangerous, uncommon]
    Scalloped Hammerhead [potentially dangerous, uncommon]
    Dusky Smoothhound [harmless, common]
    Sand Devil [harmless, uncommon]
    Piked Dogfish [harmless, common]
    Basking Shark [harmless, rare]
    Atlantic Sharpnose Shark [harmless, common]
    Bonnethead Shark [harmless, uncommon]