Field Guide: Sharks of the Bald Head Island Shore

Field Guide: Sharks of the Bald Head Island Shore

by Jake Kelly, Development/Marketing Intern | Illustrations by Sophia Wagner, Conservation Intern

We had a fin-tactic Shark Week in July with shark-themed exhibits and specimens in Fleming Environmental Education Center, dogfish dissection programs, and Shark Trivia on our social media. We also introduced our supporters to a few of the fascinating sharks found off of the Cape Fear Coast!

As ocean predators, sharks are ecosystem engineers, maintaining populations of fish, crabs and other creatures, and protecting them is essential to the ocean’s health. You may often see requiem sharks off our shore, which are migratory, live-bearing sharks of warm seas, sometimes of brackish water like the Cape Fear River. As you round the island and move closer to the saltwater of the Atlantic Ocean, you may spot other species such as hammerheads and the distant cousins of the shark, rays!

The Atlantic Sharpnose Shark (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae) get their name from their long, pointy snout. Atlantic Sharpnose Sharks eat small fish such as eels, silversides and wrasses, as well as worms, shrimp, crabs, and mollusks. Young sharks have black dorsal (back) and caudal (tail) fin edges; adults have white spots on sides and white on edges of pectoral fins. Adults are usually as small as 2-3 feet long!

The Spinner Shark (Carcharhinus brevipinna) is notable for their unique feeding technique, which involves quickly spinning out of the water to catch prey (they can leap up to 20 feet!). Spinenr Sharks are slender, agile and fast with gray or black-tipped fins. These sharks prefer shallower water such as bays. Adults are around 6 feet in length!

The Sandbar Shark (Carcharhinus plumbeus) are distinguishable by their high front dorsal fin and inter-dorsal ridge. Sandbar Sharks prefers sandy bottoms of coastal areas, like estuaries. These sharks are brownish-gray in color and adults average 6 feet long. Sandbar Sharks are opportunistic, with keen and fast tracking eyes. Chesapeake Bay and Delaware Bay are two of their most important nursing grounds!

The Scalloped Hammerhead Shark (Sphyrna lewini) is named for notches found along the front of their hammer-shaped head. Their widely spaced eyes, nostrils and other senses allow stronger location of prey along the sea floor. Their head can be used to pin stingrays to the bottom, and their special sensory cells can be used to detect electric fields given off by fish. Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks rotate between being social creatures who travel in large groups to solitary living. These sharks are shy and try to avoid people, making them hard to study. Adults can reach as long as 12 feet!

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