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Jul 28, 2015 5:47 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Sharks Of Long Island

Jul 29, 2015 10:05 AM

Last week’s “Sharknado”-size scare off the shores of Tobay Beach in Oyster Bay has Long Islanders shaking in their swim trunks. But according to Demian Chapman, associate professor, assistant science director and shark specialist at Stony Brook University, shark sightings are not all that uncommon.

There are dozens of shark species in the Atlantic, most of which have no interest in taking a bite out of a boogie-boarder.

“I think the threat of attack is exaggerated greatly,” Dr. Chapman said, “because the risk of being attacked by a shark is typically low.”

There are about 400 species of sharks, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Science Administration. According to Dr. Chapman, sharks found on the East End and off the rest of Long Island include:

• Basking shark—this gentle giant is one of the largest sharks found in the world. According to Joe Yaiullo, curator and co-founder of the Long Island Aquarium in Riverhead, these 30-foot sharks do not even have teeth, and “hunt” with their jaws fully ajar. They filter their food of choice—plankton—in the shallow parts of the Atlantic. Basking sharks can be found offshore throughout the East End and have been sighted in small groups in Wainscott and at Cupsogue Beach.

• Blue shark—the blue shark is one of the most common sharks found on the East End. Blue sharks are one of the many types of sharks that fall victim to recreational fishing and industrial commercial scale fishing, according to Dr. Chapman. “They are probably taking too many,” he said, “and will have to dial it back.”

These open water sharks have been a main target of sport fishermen, especially around Montauk and other parts of the East End. According to Mr. Yaiullo, tagging these sharks had helped the depleting populations—sport fishermen can electronically track their catch and still get credit for catching without unnecessarily killing the creatures.

The blue shark mainly feeds on fish and is equipped with serrated teeth specifically meant for grabbing chunks of flesh, much like those of a great white shark. But, Mr. Yaiullo stressed, “We [humans] are not on their menu.”

• Great white shark—according to Dr. Chapman, these sharks are frequently spotted around Massachusetts, but can definitely be found around the East End and elsewhere on Long Island as well. Mr. Yaiullo says the great white shark is an apex predator, meaning top predator in its food chain. The great white has the ability to eat pretty much anything it pleases. They have been known to feast on fish, dead whale carcasses and even other sharks.

The great white shark can grow to a whopping 20 feet. “Attacks” by great whites and other sharks are what Mr. Yaiullo say are “initial bites,” which occur when the shark believes the human is a food source, then quickly realizes it is wrong and swims away.

Dr. Chapman said he assisted the National Marine Fisheries Service researchers from Stony Brook Southampton’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences in recovering a juvenile great white that washed up in Amagansett last July. The juvenile shark was 4 feet long and weighed about 75 pounds, an East Hampton Town official said at the time.

• Thresher shark—thresher sharks are one of the few sharks hunted for their meat. They feed on schooling fish like bluefish or bunker fish, according to Mr. Yaiullo. They are known for their mighty tails—which can whip prey to stun them before consumption. Young threshers, referred to as pups, can be found inshore in shallow waters and bays.

• Spiny dogfish—these small, 8-to-13-inch sharks, can be found during the colder months on the East End. According to the National Atlantic and Atmospheric Administration, populations of this species plummeted in the late 1990s, but rose and continue to rise due to catch limits for fishermen.

• Smooth dogfish—several smooth dogfish washed ashore at Main Beach in East Hampton last August. The name may sound like man’s best friend in fish form, 10 rows of teeth remind us that this creature is most definitely a shark. However, the rows of teeth are blunt and rounded in order to crush and grind crabs and lobsters. These bottom-dwelling dogfish have the ability to change colors along with the hunting grounds they live on.

• Sand tiger shark—this threatened species can be found at the Long Island Aquarium. The sand tiger shark swims very slowly, and according to Mr. Yaiullo, and looks pretty much what people think a shark would look like. They have long, protruding, sharp teeth that can chew almost anything the shark chooses to eat, according to the National Aquarium in Baltimore. These sharks can grow to 10.5 feet long and weigh as much as 350 pounds.

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