You’re enjoying a lovely day on the lower Chesapeake Bay when suddenly you spot that tell-tale fin in the water — too sharp to be a dolphin… it must be a shark!
Before you panic and scream ‘Jaws!’, consider the fact that you’re most likely looking at one of the lower Chesapeake’s most commonly found— and commonly harmless— sharks: the sandbar shark.
This large (up to 7 feet long) coastal shark is likely spending her summer in the ocean’s version of a maternity ward and has absolutely no interest in nibbling on you. The Chesapeake Bay is one of the most important sandbar shark nursery areas in the Atlantic, and each year shark moms-to-be make a trip here to birth their pups.
And, to make matters worse (for her), these mild-mannered sharks endure a yearlong pregnancy! Thankfully, there are plenty of crabs and bottom-dwelling fish for her to feed on.
What is even more likely than running into a sandbar shark mom, is running into her recently born pups. Juvenile sandbar sharks are abundant in the Chesapeake until late fall, when they begin to migrate southward. The young sandbar sharks live in the shallow eel grass beds of the lower bay where they find an abundance of food and refuge. It takes these pups as long as 25 years to reach maturity!
Sandbar sharks are currently protected from commercial fishing in the Chesapeake Bay and as a result, their numbers are slowly recovering from overfishing in the early 1990s.
Keep an eye out for more shark-themed blogs for Shark Week!