That’s right, we’re going to break it down.
We had a really interesting shark sighting reported that had us stumped for a few days. Michael Greenan sent us some photographs of a shark he saw from a beach in South Carolina on August 15, 2014.
The shark appeared to be searching for food and he said that it swam straight at him until the water became too shallow. Then it turned and swam away. He estimated the shark to be about 5 feet long.
We knew a shark sighted in these warmer waters meant there were a lot more species that it could be, so we enlisted the help of John Chisholm, from the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, who also works with the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, that we’ve talked about in a previous post. In his opinion, the two most likely candidates from that region, with such a high dorsal fin would be: 1) sandbar shark, or 2) Carolina hammerhead. If he had to choose, John thinks it’s more likely a hammerhead, as the dorsal fin is tall and narrow and the dorsal fin of a sandbar shark is usually a little wider. Michael didn’t get to see the shark’s head, which would have confirmed the species ID out of the two options, but he did say that he’d heard some others had spotted a hammerhead that week.
The sandbar shark is a coastal-pelagic species found in temperate to tropical waters. It’s generally a bottom-dweeling shark, found in coastal waters and prefers waters on the continental shelves, oceanic banks and island terraces. It is commercially fished and thus is vulnerable to over-exploitation. Despite its large numbers, it is declining. Currently, the sandbar shark is listed as “Near threatened” throughout its range by the World Conservation Union (IUCN), but in the western North Atlantic region, it is assessed as “Lower Risk/Conservation Dependent).
The Carolina hammerhead was recently classified and is nearly indistinguishable from the scalloped hammerhead (this means, Michael’s sighting could be either species). Both species live in warm temperate and tropical waters around the globe. The scalloped hammerhead is known to school in large numbers. They are increasingly targeted in some areas for the shark fin demand and recent estimates suggest they have declined by 50-90% over the last 32 years in some areas of its range (including South Africa, the northwest and western central Atlantic and Brazil). As such, the scalloped hammerhead is currently listed as “Endangered” by the IUCN.
Very cool sighting!
For those of you that caught the reference (yes, I was a child that grew up in the 80s….). Here’s a completely non-shark related blast from the 1990 past: