Shark presence in So. Md. reported

Big fish part of local wildlife

Friday, May 30, 2008

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Dangerous sharks are rare in Southern Maryland’s salt waters, but bull sharks have been caught here. A batch was caught in the Patuxent River in 1973.


There are sharks in Southern Maryland waters, but no recorded shark attacks on humans. Sharks are mainly a novelty when people come in contact with them in this part of the Chesapeake Bay.

‘‘We’re a pretty good ways up the bay for sharks,” said Kyle Rambo of the Natural Resources Office at Patuxent River Naval Air Station. Sharks prefer salty water.

But dogfish, also called sand sharks, are common in the area and harmless to humans.

‘‘We caught a nurse shark one time about 7 feet long” back around 1960, said St. Mary’s County Commission President Francis Jack Russell (D). It was caught in a seine net off Chicken Cock Creek on the St. Mary’s River near St. Inigoes. ‘‘We just turned it loose.”

The nurse shark is a nocturnal feeder that dines on fish and crustaceans. Its average size is between 7.5 and 9 feet, and can weigh up to 233 pounds. Its not known as an aggressive species and will swim away when approached, but ‘‘some unprovoked attacks on swimmers and divers have been reported,” according to the Florida Museum of Natural History.

In June 1991, The Enterprise reported that Robert Brown of Avenue caught a 7-foot dusky shark in the Potomac River. The average size is 10 feet with a weight between 350 and 395 pounds. The dusky shark is considered a potentially harmful species because it frequents shallow water, according to the Florida museum.

On Aug. 23, 1973, a fisherman accidentally netted five bull sharks and was able to drag three of them to shore out of the mouth of the Patuxent River at the Esperanza Farms neighborhood. The description in the Aug. 30, 1973, edition of The Enterprise said, ‘‘The bull shark is not normally dangerous to man.”

The bull shark is actually the most aggressive shark in the world’s oceans. It carries the most testosterone of any animal and can also tolerate fresh water. It is widely blamed for freshwater attacks and deaths in New Jersey in July 1916.

According to the International Shark Attack File, the bull shark is responsible for 69 unprovoked attacks across the world, with 17 fatalities. ‘‘They’re definitely in this area,” Rambo said.

On Aug. 20, 1904, a shark was caught in a net four miles south of Alexandria in the Potomac, according to the Washington Post.

On July 22, 1911, a fisherman was attacked aboard his boat by a shark trying to come on board on the Potomac, off Charles County. The shark was beaten back with help from another fisherman, according to the account.

‘‘They used to talk about sharks following the oil tankers to Piney Point,” Russell said.

On July 21, 1960, tanker crews spotted a 10-foot hammerhead shark at the mouth of the Potomac River. Rare north of North Carolina, the hammerhead can reach a maximum size of 20 feet. The species has attacked 21 people and killed two, according to the shark attack file.

The Associated Press on Aug. 24, 1936, reported, ‘‘Game warden Eric Floyd of St. Mary’s County shot four large sharks trapped in the nets of Capt. Preston Fields near Airedale. The large fish, weighing more than 100 pounds each, had become entangled in the nets and were tearing them to pieces when Floyd was called to kill them.” It was not reported what kind of sharks they were.

Just the year before, the St. Mary’s Beacon reported, ‘‘Not long ago, a shark, about 10 feet long and weighing about 400 pounds, was caught in a net by J.A. Clarke at Cuckhold’s Creek. The shark was exhibited to about 2,000 people from the county and nearby cities. The shark was later cut into steaks and served in a local restaurant.” That shark was not identified either.

On Dec. 5, 1881, the Chester Daily News picked up a story that said a woman aboard a sailboat on the Potomac River near Piney Point had her hat yanked from her hand by a shark that was following a long ribbon hanging over the side of the boat.

In July 1839, three sharks from 12 to 14 feet long were entangled in a seine net in the mouth of the Chester River, just north of Kent Island, which is unusually far north for sharks in the Chesapeake.

At Patuxent River Naval Air Station, the most common shark reports ‘‘are the non-shark, shark reports,” Rambo said. Cownose rays, when trying to lure in a mate, curl up their wing tips above the surface of the water. ‘‘You get these pointed little triangles. They always appear in pairs,” and people evacuate the beach, thinking sharks are near.