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What kinds of sharks live in Massachusetts waters? Here's what to know.
What kinds of sharks live in Massachusetts waters? Here's what to know.
What kinds of sharks live in Massachusetts waters? Here's what to know.

Published on: 07/09/2024

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Interlude with a small shark on Cape Cod
In 2014, we encounter a small shark in a lagoon behind Red River Beach in Harwich.

When you think of swimming in the ocean in Massachusetts, what do you think of?

Sharks?

That wouldn't be a bad answer. While shark attacks remain infrequent in Massachusetts waters, there are several different species of sharks living off the coast of Massachusetts, especially in the waters of Cape Cod.

And with Shark Week underway as of July 7, (lasting through July 13), it's worth taking a look at the different species of sharks living in the coastal waters of The Commonwealth.

Ryan Knotek, an associate research scientist with the New England Aquarium told the Cape Cod Times last year there are at least 17 species that call New England waters home or that pass through.

"It's a lot more than people think," he said. "They think white sharks, maybe a couple of other ones."

The list is growing, according to scientists, as the oceans heat up, allowing some species that prefer warm water to migrate further north in the summer. Spinner sharks, for example,  are one of the warm water species starting to show up in southern New England water, including off of Nantucket and Cape.

Here's a look at some of the species that frequent Massachusetts' waters.

The one you hear about the most often, white sharks – also known as Great white sharks – are named for their white underbellies, even though their topsides come in grays and browns, according to National Geographic,.

They can "rocket through the water at speeds approaching 35 miles an hour and (have) a bite force of up to 1.8 metric tons." They can live more than 70 years and can grow to up to 21 feet long. They can weigh up to 4,500 pounds.

A study by Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, UMass Dartmouth and the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries estimated that 800 white sharks visited the waters off of Cape Cod between 2015 and 2018.

The shark in 'Jaws' is 25 feet long. Are there really sharks that big off the Cape?

These sharks are "aggressive predators" that eat other fish, such as bluefish, swordfish, tuna, marine mammals, and other sharks, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). They can grow to up to 13-feet-long, and can live to be more than 30 years old.

Shortfin Mako sharks: Transmitter from mako found in Falmouth

These sharks, also known as gray nurse sharks, "are a docile, non-aggressive species, known to attack humans only when bothered first," according to National Geographic. They are "brownish-gray with rust-colored spots on top and white underneath." They can grow anywhere from 6.5 to 10.5 feet long and can weigh between 200-350 pounds.

The species was in a sharp decline due to overfishing, but protections put in place – such as prohibiting the harvest of any sand tiger sharks – have helped the species to recover, according to the New England Aquarium.

More: Rare shark washed up on Little Compton beach. Researchers left asking, 'what happened'

These are also known as brown sharks, according to NOAA, which states that it is "one of the largest shark species found in coastal waters," growing up to 8-feet-long. NOAA states it can weigh between 100-200 pounds and can live more than 20 years, and added that they "have brownish-gray bodies and white bellies. They have a tall dorsal fin on their back and large pectoral fins on either side of their body. Their snouts are rounded and shorter than the average shark."

These sharks tend to spend time in shallow water.

The easiest feature of these sharks to identify is their tail.

"Their tail fin is sickle-shaped, and the upper part is extremely long, about half the length of their body," NOAA said.

These sharks take on a brown, gray, blue-gray, or blackish appearance on the back and on the underside of their snout. They can live up to 20 years and can grow up to 20-feet-long.

More: Fourth thresher shark found frozen off Wellfleet

One of the larger sharks found in New England waters, Dusky sharks aren't too common as we are the northern tip of their range.

"Dusky sharks are big ocean predators that can reach up to 400 pounds, " The Ocean Conservancy said. "Although dusky sharks rarely interact with humans, their size and proximity to shore could potentially be dangerous.

The Shark Research Institute explains that these are "heavy bodied shark(s) with a short, conical snout, and long gill slits...(they are) dark grey or blackish on top, with the underside being white with dusky blotches." They can grow anywhere between 4.9 to 9.8 feet and can weigh up to 280 pounds. They are considered to be "critically endangered," according to the Shark Research Institute.

Porbeagle sharks can tolerate cooler water and are the only so-called "resident" sharks that are present year-round off of Massachusetts.

Blue sharks are found throughout the Northern Atlantic Ocean. Mass.gov states that these "can get up to 13 feet in length but generally are closer to 10 feet long. They have a deep blue color dorsally, which fades to light blue on the sides and white on the belly. They have slender bodies with large eyes and a cone shaped snout." T

he website also notes that white sharks and shortfin Mako sharks often prey on adult blue sharks. They can weigh about 250 pounds.

National Geographic states that these sharks are the world's second largest fish. They have six rows of teeth in its upper jaw, and nine rows in its lower jaw, "for a total of about 1,500 tiny, hooked teeth."

They are considered to be totally harmless. They can grow up to 33 feet long and can weigh up to 4.5 tons. They can live to be about 50 years old.

Everything to know about basking sharks: A Cape Cod shark we can all love: Bask in the glow of a giant, mellow fish

These sharks are named for their "dark, vertical stripes found mainly on juveniles. As these sharks mature, the lines begin to fade and almost disappear... (they) have a duly earned reputation as man-eaters. They are second only to great whites in attacking people," according to National Geographic.

They can grow between 10-14 feet and can weigh 850 to 1,400 pounds.

More: What marine animals swim in the deep water canyons southeast of Cape Cod? New England Aquarium knows

Whale sharks are known as the largest fishes in the sea, according to National Geographic, with basking sharks pulling up a close second. They are considered to be docile and can measure between 18 to 32.8 feet and can weigh up to 20.6 tons. They can live to be 70 years old.

Whale sharks can be found every year in offshore canyons in the Gulf Stream along the edge of the Continental Shelf, but they rarely come closer to shore.

More: VIDEO: Encounter with a whale shark off Cape Cod

National Geographic states that "their wide-set eyes give them a better visual range than most other sharks." Their heads literally resemble the appearance of a hammer. These sharks can grow up to 20 feet in length and weigh up to 1,000 pounds. They can live from 20-30 years old.

Cape Cod Sharks: More hammerhead shark sightings reported in area

Some of the beaches sharks have been spotted at recently, according to local reports and Sharktivity app, include:

  • Head of the Meadow Beach in Truro
  • Cahoon Hollow Beach in Wellfleet
  • Off of Eastham
  • Off of Chatham
  • Off of Orleans
  • Sagamore Beach, Plymouth

Massachusetts sharks: Here's where you can see sharks in real life in New England

While these beaches specifically saw sharks recently, sharks have been seen at plenty of other beaches and swimmers should always practice care. Sharks should be observed from shore or a boat, not in the water.

News Source : https://www.capecodtimes.com/story/news/environment/2024/07/09/sharks-massachusetts-cape-cod-species-guide-white-shark-whale-tiger/74324367007/

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