Big shark spotted in Peconic Bay, but what kind was it?

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08/01/2011 1:12 PM |

SUFFOLK TIMES PHOTO | Shark warning sign posted in East Marion earlier this week.

An eight-foot shark caught in a fisherman’s nets and then released in Orient Harbor early last week has become the talk of the town with many as-yet unanswered questions floating about, chief among them is it a man-eater or not?

On July 25 the shark was discovered within the maze of a pound trap, which uses stationary nets affixed to posts to funnel fish such as bluefish and porgies into a central holding area. The shark may have been after the fish, or a gray seal spotted nearby.

When reporting his catch and release to the state Department of Environmental Conservation and other authorities, the fisherman identified the fish as a bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas), one of the three most dangerous in the world, along with great whites and tiger sharks.

Bull sharks are no strangers to shallow coastal waters. But there’s another species found in local waters similar in appearance and size, but is no threat to humans.

And since the animal was set free, there’s no way of positively identifying it.

Hearing that report of a bull shark, George Peter, president of the Gardiners Bay Property Owners Association, which has a community beach in East Marion, put up signs throughout the area the following day warning residents. particularly parents of small children, to be cautious.

Mr. Peter, who spoke with the fisherman, said the size of the fish indicated it was “a serious adult.”

Southold Police chief Martin Flatley said there have been no sightings of the shark since. As a precaution, the police notified the Orient Beach State Park, town lifeguards, the Coast Guard and the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

“From what I’m told, it’s not uncommon for there to be sharks in the water here from time to time,” the chief said. He added that he knows of no report ever filed of a shark attack in Southold waters.

Since he did not see the shark, Emerson Hasbrouck, director of the Cornell Cooperative Extension marine program, couldn’t identify it. But he did say there’s a chance the fish could be a sandbar shark (Carcharhinus plumbeus.) That species and bull sharks both have broad, flat heads and are both found in in-shore waters along the East Coast. The more benign of the two, sandbar sharks eat bunker, skates, squid and crustaceans.

“It’s not unusual for pound net fishermen to catch sharks since there’s a concentration of fish there,” said Mr. Hasbrouck.

He added that sandbar sharks are the second most common large shark caught on the East Coast.

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