Researchers at the New York Aquarium in Brooklyn have announced news they have confirmed the presence of a rare sand tiger shark nursery in the Great South Bay.
Sand tiger sharks grow up to 10 feet in length and fearsome-looking but non-aggressive, said researchers with the Wildlife Conservation Society, which operates the Coney Island aquarium.
The announcement comes after about four years of research, during which scientists used acoustic tags — described as devices that enable scientists to remotely track marine animals.
Only a handful of search nursery grounds have been identified, one of which is in the waters off Massachusetts, according to the announcement.
“The discovery of a shark nursery is fantastic news for local conservationists seeking to learn more about sharks and other species in the New York Bight,” said the aquarium’s vice president and director, Jon Dohlin. “Through field projects and outreach efforts by the New York Aquarium and other organizations, we hope to raise awareness about our local marine environment and the need to manage our natural wonders.”
Scientists are not sure how much of the bay is being used by the sharks, how many visit Long Island each summer and what, exactly, the sharks are eating.
Mores studies are being done.
The researchers also don’t want to be too specific as to where the sharks were concentrated in the 45-mile long bay, for fear the sharks would be disturbed “for good or for bad intentions.”
It was in 2011 when team first suspected a nursery in the bay waters, after receiving a picture of a dead juvenile tiger sand shark from a marina along the shore. Follow-up interviews with fishermen and boaters revealed people had been catching these small sharks for years.
Then the tagging study began, with scientists catching and releasing juvenile sharks, including 10 sharks that were tagged this year alone.
Five other sharks tagged in previous season were also found to have returned to the same section of the bay, a behavior the experts said is known as “site fidelity.”
Sand tiger shark populations have been heavily depleted and the shark is listed as a Species of Concern by the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service. The species has a low reproductive rate, with a female shark only giving birth to one or two pups every two years.
Fishing for the sharks has been prohibited in state and federal waters since 1997.
“Sand tiger shark pups are not born here but migrate from down south to spend the summers as juveniles in New York’s coastal waters,” explained Dr. Merry Camhi, the director of the New York Seascape program, which is the Wildlife Conservation Society’s, local marine conservation program. “The acoustically tagged animals in our study will help us better understand where the sharks go, their habitat needs, and how we can better protect them.”
The Great South Bay shark nursery provides juvenile sand tiger sharks ranging from several months to five years old with a place to feed and grow. A nursery also gives juvenile sharks protection from predators, including other sharks, according to the experts.
The sharks head to the bay in the spring and stay there all summer.
They then migrate south come fall.
Readers can learn more about WCS’s work in local waters at BlueYork.org.