Sunday, August 14, 2016

Two More Species of Shark Officially Endangered

    Hello again everyone. Today's blog will be much shorter than my last, but has extremely important news in it. Earlier this month one species of shark was upgraded (or downgraded depending how you look at it) from Vulnerable to Endangered on the IUCN's Red List. Another species of shark jumped from Near Threatened to Endangered as well. In addition, the Bornean Orangutan was upgraded to Critically Endangered... Just one small step from extinction. Today I'll be focusing on the two shark species, moreso one than the other. For more information on the orangutan you'll have to head to google or yahoo or whatever search engine of your choice.

    The first shark I'll admit I know little about as it is not a local species of shark to me and have only been learning about it over the past few days. This species of shark was listed on the IUCN's Red List as Near Threatened back in 2003. Earlier this month it was relisted as Endangered. This species is commonly known as the winghead shark or the slender hammerhead shark. This species of shark can be found in both the Indian and Pacific Oceans along the continental shelf. As is the case with many species throughout this shark's range, this species is dealing with intense exploitation. As with other hammerheads, the winghead shark is highly sought after for it's fins. It is also sought after as one of the few species of shark sold for it's meat (for fishmeal). Extremely high catch rates throughout it's range (with the exception of Australia where populations seem to be a bit more stable) have caused a steady decline in this slowly maturing species of shark. Unlike several other species of shark, the winghead shark currently has no protections other than Australia's fisheries laws.

    The second shark is one that I have blogged about multiple times on this blog and it is quite heartbreaking for me to have to type this out. The second shark on this list was been upgraded from Vulnerable to Endangered. That species of shark is the largest fish in the oceans, the whale shark. As I've mentioned time and times again in the past, this species of shark can grow to be over forty feet and weigh several tons. Despite it's size the whale shark is one of the most gentle fish in the seas. It's throat is about the size of a quarter and it's mouth can open to be four feet wide. Truly and incredible animal, but sadly, an animal that is now endangered. The whale shark inhabits all but the Southern Ocean in areas where warm water occurs. In the Atlantic they have been seen as far north as New Jersey and as far south as South Africa. In the Pacific Ocean they can found from China to Australia. They can also be found throughout the Indian Ocean as well. It is in the Indo-Pacific that these animals are currently facing the most pressure. Population declines are now estimated to be over fifty percent which is a terrible situation. In southern China there is a very large whale shark fishing operation that continues to grow. It is this fishery that is now the largest threat to the whale sharks of the Indo-Pacific. Unlike the winghead, the whale shark does have several protections including being listed of Appendix II of CITES, Annex 1 (highly migratory) of UNCLOS, among others along with various nations have their own laws in regards to catching this shark as well. The whale shark is in big demand for it's fins, liver oil, and meat (used for various products). One whale shark fin can sell for over fifty thousand dollars. These animals now more than ever need our help and now time is clearly their enemy.

Stay tuned for more whale shark related blogs in the near future! Remember. Extinction is forever. If we lose these animals now. We will never have a chance at bringing them back.

Friday, August 12, 2016

The Twelve Days of Terror 100 Years Later

    Hello again everyone! I hope everything has been going well with all of you. Today's topic is one that I've been debating on blogging about for nearly a month. I've referenced it a lot recently, so I feel that it'd be good to cover the topic as I can't seem to find a single blog about it on here. That topic would be the events that took place along the Jersey Shore from July 1st through July 12th, 1916. It was during this time that a series of fatal shark attacks sent the nation into a shark panic. The events would later go on to inspire both Peter Benchley's book entitled "Jaws" and the movie by the same name. Since this is a shark conservation blog I want to make a quick statement. This blog is going to 100% true. There are no opinions on these matters as they are historical and did take place. After I've gone through the events I will offer my thoughts on the matter and also go into some of the lasting effects from the events that happened one hundred years ago this past July. Fair warning to those reading, the events that took place in 1916 may not be suitable for all audiences, so if you are easily disturbed you may want to avoid reading.

    What has become known as the twelve days of terror began on July 1st, 1916. Charles Vansant, a 25 year old man from Philadelphia was on vacation in Beach Haven, a small town that is part of Long Beach Island. Before dinner, Vansant decided to go for a swim in the Atlantic Ocean with a Chesapeake Bay Retriever. Shortly after entering the water, the dog exited the water and Vansant began shouting. Originally bathers and other beachgoers thought that Vansant was simply calling out to the dog. In reality though, he was being bitten by a shark. Once they realized the peril Vansant was in, the lifeguard, Alexander Ott, as well as another beachgoer, Sheridan Taylor rushed to his aid. The two men quickly loaded Vansant into the lifeguard boat. It was there they noticed the severity of the injuries. Taylor claimed that the shark followed the lifeguard boat all the way to shore. Vansant was carried to the Engleside Hotel where he died from blood loss at 6:45pm.

    News of Vansant's death made it to the newspapers, but there was no real urgency. Scientists remained reluctant to admit that Vansant was actually bitten by a shark. Some would only say that he was bitten by a large fish. Beaches along the Jersey Shore remained open. In the days following ships docking in New York and New Jersey had claimed to have seen large sharks swimming in the waters near shore. Vansant's death faded into the back of many people's minds and for a few days things were quiet. Then on July 6th, 1916 the next incident occurred. One of the bell captains at the Essex and Sussex Hotel in Spring Lake, New Jersey named Charles Bruder, 27, was swimming just over one hundred yards from shore. It was there that a shark bit him in the abdomen. The bite was large enough so sever both of Bruder's legs. Some women on the beach heard Bruder's screams and informed a lifeguard that it looked like a red canoe had capsized. In reality the red the women were seeing was actually the blood in the water coming from Bruder's mid section. The two lifeguards, Chris Anderson and George White paddled out in their lifeboat to Bruder where they realized that he had been bitten by a shark.  The two lifeguards pulled Bruder into the boat, but Bruder would bleed to death in the lifeboat.

    The news of Bruder's death was picked up by far more outlets than Vansant's was. The backlash of the attack had a big impact on tourism as losses following the attack were estimated at $250,000 dollars, which was a lot more money then than it is today. Bathing in some areas plummeted by roughly 75% and the fear of sharks in the United States was really born. In the following days multiple reports of close calls and shark sightings were reported. One of the lifeguards at an Asbury Park beach claimed to have beaten off a large shark with his oar while out on his lifeboat. Armed fishermen also claimed to have chased off a large shark as well at Spring Creek. Scientists advised that that a third encounter with a shark was unlikely, but also advised swimmers to swim in netted off areas that were installed following the first attack. Despite these reports of near attacks, there had been no attacks confirmed, but the shark panic had already set in to many New Jersey beach towns.

    The tense situation would continue until July 12th, where one of the more mysterious and startling things in the history of the state of New Jersey happened. Thomas Cottrell was on his boat in the Matawan Creek and claimed to have spotted an eight foot long shark in the creek. Upon seeing the shark, he rushed into town to warn everyone to stay out of the water. Matawan is a town in New Jersey that is set inland. In addition the Matawan Creek is largely fresh water which is the exact opposite of the salt water of the ocean. The people of Matawan dismissed Cottrell who returned to his boat to warn anyone who may be swimming in the creek to get out of the water. Further up the creek a few boys were swimming. At around 2:00pm a you boy named Lester Stillwell, 11, was one of the boys swimming in the area of the Matawan Creek known as Wyckoff Dock. Stillwell and the other boys attempted to get out of the water when they saw a fin and large dark shape moving towards them in the water. The other boys made it out of the water, but Stillwell was grabbed by the shark and vanished into the murky water.

    The other boys ran back to town to get help. Several men, including Stanley Fisher, 24, rushed to the dock and into the water to try and rescue Stillwell whom the townsfolk believed had a seizure in the water. Fisher located Stillwell's body, but was also attacked by a shark while trying to return to shore. Fisher's left thigh was severely damaged and he bled to death at Monmouth Memorial Hospital. Stillwell's body would be recovered on July 14th. About a half hour after Fisher was attacked Joseph Dunn, 14, was swimming in the creek about a half mile away from where Stillwell and Fisher were attacked. Dunn was also attacked by a shark in the freshwater creek, but was rescued by his brother and taken to Saint Peter's University Hospital where he recovered and was released on September 15, 1916. This marked the end of the 1916 shark attacks, but not the end of the chaos that ensured.

    The people of Matawan took to the creek with guns, nets, and even dynamite in an attempt to kill the shark that had attacked the three young men.

Newspapers featured the attacks with pictures of both Stillwell and Fisher who had lost their lives in the attacks.

    The mayor of Matawan also put out a bounty on the shark of one hundred dollars (worth a lot back then than it is now). While the people of Matawan tried to kill the shark in the creek, elsewhere anti shark measures were ramping up. Armed boats patrolled many beaches and all kinds of theories began appearing as to just what had transpired over the last twelve days. In the days following July 12th, multiple confirmed shark catches were reported. One angler caught a blue shark near Long Branch which is not far from Matawan. Cottrell reported that he caught a sandbar shark near the mouth of the creek on July 16th. The most interesting and seemingly the one with the most impact was the catching of a young great white shark by Michael Schleisser in the Raritan Bay which is very close to the Matawan Creek. The shark was caught on July 14th and was deemed to have human remains in it's stomach by scientists. The shark was put on display in Manhattan, but at some point was lost and the only remains of that shark is this famous picture. 

    Despite the capture of multiple sharks, the theories continued to come in. One captain suggested that the shark was actually a Spanish shark driven to the east coast during the Spanish-American War. Others believed it to be the work of German U-Boats that were in the area. The popular theory that a single "rogue" shark was responsible for all the attacks also came to life shortly after the attacks ended. To this day nobody knows for sure just what shark was responsible for the events that took place in 1916, but knowing what we now know about sharks today, we can see that nearly all of these attacks can be looked at in different ways. Before looking at those different views it is important to remember the time. Science by no means was what it is today back in 1916. The amount that we knew about sharks then versus now is incredible and in the end we still don't know all that much.

    Looking at these attacks in a different view it can be theorized that all of the people who were attacked had put themselves at a higher risk of being attacked. Vansant was swimming alone with a dog. We now know that the awkward swimming of a dog gives off strange electromagnetic pulses that sharks can detect. The shark probably arrived while hunting the dog that had gotten out of the water, still noticed Vansant and took a bite. The big thing here is that the shark did not eat Vansant. Bruder also decided to swim alone and in deeper waters and at a time of day where sharks are now known to be more active. Stillwell, Fisher, and Dunn were all victims of a really freak incident. Seeing sharks in fresh water is rare, even bull sharks are not frequently found in fresh water despite being able to survive in it. The biggest thing the three boys had going against them was the murky waters where even a shark's vision would be reduced which would cause the animal to rely even more on it's ability to detect electromagnetic pulses. In looking at these attacks in this way one could make a determination that all of these attacks really were the result of unfortunate circumstances. As is the case with basically all theories about these attacks. It's a theory and nothing more.

    Since the attacks of 1916, there has been one fatal shark attack in the state of New Jersey. In one hundred years, there has been just one fatal attack. Despite that, a fear of sharks is still a very real thing and from 1916 onward, that fear has evolved and grown into one of the most irrational and over-broadcasted fears in the nation. For example, when a shark is seen swimming in the ocean, the media will often pick up on it and of course put a bit of an urgent spin on it. Just because a shark is seen in shallow water does not mean the water is "shark infested". Movies are still constantly in the works with shark going around killing people left and right. Even video games are putting people up against monstrous sharks. It's all over the place that sharks and people just do not mix and that is far from the truth. We dominate the land, they are supposed to be the ones dominating the seas.The fact that we as a species are so afraid of sharks is confusing to me. On one hand, yes, some species certainly have the ability to do tremendous damage to a human and that should be respected. On the other hand what we do to them should really turn our heads and help us realize how important these animals are.

    In regards to the 1916 shark attacks and my personal feelings about them I can only say this. The 1916 shark attacks were a series of really freak and unfortunate incidents. What species of shark was responsible for the attacks may never be one hundred percent known, but I'm in the ballpark of believing that a bull shark was at least responsible for the Matawan Creek attacks. I think people today are more aware of shark than they were in 1916 and beach patrols, life guards, etc are far more vigilant in getting people out of the water as soon as a fin is spotted. When I read all kinds of articles and blogs about these attacks I find that a major thing is missing that I feel is extremely important and really puts everything into perspective as to how rare of an incident these attacks were.

    To keep everything is perspective. While sharks kill under ten people per year on average, people are still killing over seventy five million sharks every year. That is a massive and I mean massive difference in the who's killing who game. Sharks kill people on accident. People kill sharks maliciously and in some of the most disturbing ways available. One example is finning in which a shark's fins are cut off and the shark is tossed back to sea. That's basically the same as a person have their arms and legs cut off and thrown on a beach. Shark fin soup continues to be a driving factor in why sharks are being hunted down, but sharks are still being killed for various other reasons including trophies, money, and fear. The 1916 shark attacks is a very important event to know about in understanding the relationship between many people and sharks. One of the biggest reasons for this is again that these attacks inspired the movie Jaws which really sent the nation into a shark fear frenzy. Remember that these animals are at the top of the food chain. They vanish, the oceans they live in will change in a big negative way forever.  


Thursday, July 28, 2016

Shark Mania NJ!

Hello everyone and welcome as always. Today's blog is going to be a quick one as I quickly take a look at some events that have been going on over the past few days as there has been quite a few shark related things going on.

First off, a video has surfaced of a 13 year old catching a sand tiger shark from the beach in Long Beach Island. The shark was estimated to be around 7 feet in length and the kid and his father were trying to catch stingrays when the shark grabbed a hold of the bait. I've gotta say that a 13 year old getting a big sand tiger onto the beach is no easy feat so that impressed me personally. Once on the beach the dad and kid took a couple quick photos of the shark then quickly released it back into the water. Sand tiger sharks are a protected species so releasing it was absolutely the correct thing to do. In addition, the father/son duo didn't go all crazy with their catch. There was no passing the shark around and from the looks of it, I'd say the shark never left the ground throughout the brief time it was out of the water.So there's a sand tiger shark literally being caught in the surf. The video of the catch was all over the news yesterday so a quick google search should find it for you. For the privacy of the names of the kid and father and what not, I'm not going to post it here.

Next there's a bit of a mystery as to just what was swimming off the beach in Belmar a few days ago. Beachgoers were shocked to see two fins hanging around in the surf. The controversy lies in just what those fins belonged to. The town Mayor claims that the fins belonged to bullnose rays that were playing in the surf. Meanwhile Erich Ritter, a research associate from the University of West Florida claims the fins could have been from one of many species of shark. To me, the video shows a few young sharks going after something, probably some bunker that has been nearly endless in the area lately. Similar reports of seeing smaller fins circling and splashing was also reported in nearby Spring Lake just days before. Chances are these are young sharks investigating their surroundings, but they're so small I'm not going to guess the species, I'll leave that up to the experts.

Last week a couple fishermen were shocked off the coast of Atlantic City when a great white shark appeared at their boat while they were fishing for other shark species. The great white made a few passes by the boat, occasionally rolling onto it's side to check out the boat and fishermen. It apparently took a small investigative bite on the back of the boat and eventually left.

The point here is just as I said a couple blogs ago. Sharks are in the Ocean and they come to New Jersey every year. The small sharks off Belmar were chasing food around, if the kid on Long Beach Island was going for stingrays, then wouldn't you know it, a shark was around because sharks eat stingrays, and a great white appeared by a boat that was trying to catch other sharks, thus luring the great white to food. It's all about the food chain here and where they prey will go, the predators will follow. That's the way the seas have worked forever, so again, the sharks are not there because you are there, they are there because they have to be to eat and really try and keep the lesser fish populations in check. I'm hopeful more of these amazing animals are seen because they are really signifying a healthier ocean. I can personally attest to that as the last time I was on a boat from Point Pleasant to Belmar, there were literally millions and millions of bunker. Five years ago you'd be lucky if you saw any while cruising around. Where the food is the sharks will follow, but the key is. The bunker is the food, not the humans!

Stay tuned for more shark stuff coming soon!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Jaws Breakdown

Hello everyone and welcome as always! If my last blog on the smooth dogfish wasn't clue enough, I have returned from all the wedding festivities that were going on and am ready to hit the ground running again. The wedding itself was an amazing event and the mini honeymoon we went on was very relaxing and fun as well. So from now until late October I'll be back at this pretty regularly. I mentioned a few blogs back that I would be taking some time to look at different shark movies and basically have some fun with them and provide some educational input as well. The reason I'm doing this is because many people actually do believe what they see in the movies. As you'll see as we progress through this blog and future blogs like this is you can't believe everything you see on the silver screen. Oh and before I begin I guess I should put out the obligatory SPOILER WARNING in case you have not seen the movie.

Jaws was released in 1975 and quickly became one of the most well known movies to ever exist. Directed by Steven Speilberg and based off a novel by Peter Benchley, Jaws is the story of a massive man eating great white shark that terrorized people and on Amity Island. Amity Island is a fictional island that was set somewhere in New England. The inspiration for both the book and movie however were the very real 1916 New Jersey shark attacks which I'll touch on as the blog continues on. The production of this movie was plagued with problems. It went over-budget and took longer to finish than anticipated. In fact, the shark that was used in the movie had a plethora of problems of it's own that caused the shark to appear less in the film than originally anticipated. Instead, Speilberg had John Williams compose the ominous music that plays when the shark is in the area, but not always seen.

The famous opening scene of Jaws shows the shark attacking a girl swimming in the Ocean while her friend passes out drunk on the beach at just the oh so wrong time. The parallel here to the events of 1916 is that Charles Vansant, the first victim in 1916, was killed while swimming alone with a companion (in his case a dog) unable to help from the shore. 

The movie progresses as police chief Martin Brody (Roy Schneider) enlists the aid of shark hunter Quint (Richard Dreyfuss) and oceanographer Matt Hooper (Murray Hamilton) to hunt down the shark that was terrorizing the beachgoers all while trying to keep the peace on the island and give hope to the town that everything is under control. Amity keeps it's beaches open for a time and sure enough more people are killed by the shark, including a child. This sends the town into a shark hunting frenzy. One pair of fishermen come in contact with Jaws who basically rips the dock out from under them. Both fishermen survive the attack. Quint offers his shark hunting services for a massive fee of ten thousand dollars, but Brody originally refuses the offer. One of the boats brings into port a large tiger shark which prompts the mayor of Amity, Larry Vaughn to declare the shark problem is over. On the fourth of July the shark attacked again, this time killing a man who was in close vicinity to Chief Brody's son and near the same beach that Vaughn's children were at as well. This causes Vaughn to hire Quint to go after the shark. Both Brody and Hooper accompany Quint on his journey. While trying to bait the shark to the boat, it pops up in a rather comical if you ask me scene. Right after one of the most famous lines in Hollywood is spoken by Brody.... "We're going to need a bigger boat". Quint manages to harpoon three barrels into the shark and Hooper manages to get a tracking device on it as well before it vanished into the depths.

After a night of drinking Quint tells the tale of the U.S.S. Indianapolis, an American ship that was sunk in World War II. After telling the story, the men sing some drunk sailor songs (Show Me the Way to Go Home) until Jaws decides to ram the boat a few times causing the engine compartment to leak. After a quick confrontation, the shark vanishes again with Quint's boat, the Orca largely disabled. After a limited success repair attempt on the Orca, the men manage to get the shark tied to the boat, only for it to drag the boat further out to sea and causing more damage to the boat in the process. Hooper enters a shark cage and decides to face the shark in the water. Jaws makes quick work of the cage, but Hooper manages to hide in a reef. Jaws then goes full whale on the boat and breaches onto it. Quint is grabbed and eaten by the shark that again breaches onto the boat. In an attempt to get the shark to back off, Brody shoves an air tank in it's mouth. With the tank still in it's mouth the shark again goes after Brody, but he manages to shoot the air tank with a gun causing it to explode thus blowing Jaws to pieces. Hooper surfaces and the two celebrate and paddle back to shore.

 For me some of the most memorable scenes from the movie include the following... Another parallel to the 1916 shark attacks is the shark entering into a pond and attacking people, including children. In 1916 Lester Stillwell, Stanley Fisher, and Joseph Dunn were attacked in the Matawan Creek, a freshwater creek located in central New Jersey. Both Stillwell and Fisher lost their lives, but Dunn would be rescued. In the movie, a sailing instructor is killed and eaten by the shark. Interesting to note that in 1916 all bodies from the attacks were recovered contrary to Jaws eating everybody. Even more interesting to me is that Jaws is a Great White whereas many scientists believe that the Bull Shark is responsible for the 1916 attacks. As a big fan of history I also fancy Quint's tale of the Indianapolis. One thing to note in that scene however is that it is believed that Oceanic White Tip Sharks were responsible for scavenging on those who were deceased or near deceased. In Quint's tale, Tiger sharks picked the men off one by one.

So where is the fun in this movie. Well it comes in knowing a little about sharks and knowing that Hollywood doesn't always equal reality. For one, some species of shark are known to breach. as you can see Jaws demonstrating in the picture above. However sharks are only known to do this while hooked and by sharks I'm generally talking about the Shortfin Mako shark which commonly breaches while hooked and sometimes lands in boats on accident. Great Whites will breach in certain part of the world, but they are not at all known to jump on the back of the boat and act like Jack Nicholson in The Shining. 

In addition, sharks are not known to literally go Pacman on a boat and just start eating it's way through the boat. Nor have they proven to be intelligent enough to ram an engine compartment until it floods with water. Perhaps the most outrageous thing in the movie is at one point the shark breaches and literally roars. I'm sorry I can't think of a single shark that roars. I mean sea robins croak and what not, but never have I heard a fish of any kind let out a literal lion-esque roar. Incredible! This literally scared the crap out of people in the 1970's.

At the time that fear was justified. We knew so so so sooooo little about sharks back then that it's no wonder that this movie plunged the world into a shark panic. Now though the impacts of this movie has stretched far and wide and caused the author of the book, Peter Benchley to say "Knowing what I know now, I could never write that book today". He also said "Sharks don't target human beings, and they certainly don't hold grudges". Two huge phrases that really opened a lot of eyes to what had happened. No matter how many times Benchley said the book and film are fiction, people still feared sharks in a way they had never done before. After Jaws was released shark hunting skyrocketed. Great Whites became trophies. Some fisherman considered it doing their duty to go out and kill these animals. If you don't believe that simply go on Youtube, the videos are not difficult to find at all. Though Peter Benchley has sadly passed away, his wife Wendy continues to fight for sharks to this very day.

Partially thanks to the movie, Great White populations have plummeted around the world. Shark finning, long line fishing, trophy hunting, and fear have all contributed to this shark's populations to decrease around the world. In just over 30 years following the movie, this species of shark has ended up of the IUCN's Red List as Vulnerable. This shark is now a protected species and in some areas it seems that the populations are increasing which is amazing news. Every day more and more people are becoming aware of the truth about these animals through the efforts of individuals like Wendy Benchley and countless others who want these sharks to have a future.

Jaws is probably the most historically influenced shark movie there is. This is why this blog had a more serious tone. The upcoming shark movie blogs are a bit more outlandish as I looks towards movies such as Deep Blue Sea, Sharknado, and others. Stay tuned for some Hollywood/Sci-Fi fun coming soon!

Sunday, July 24, 2016

New Jersey's Fintastic Visitors Episode II: The Smooth Dogfish

Hello everyone and welcome back to New Jersey's Fintastic Visitors! This will be the second installment of a series of educational blogs that highlight some of the sharks that visit my home state of New Jersey throughout the year! Today's blog will focus on a small species of shark known as the smooth dogfish!

If you have ever taken a boat into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of New Jersey and tried to fish for anything close to shore, there is a halfway decent chance that you may have caught one of these little guys. Despite their size, the smooth dogfish is just as much a shark as it's larger cousins. The smooth dogfish can grow to be roughly 5 feet in length, but the average is smaller than that. Weight wise this shark can get to be roughly 27 pounds. They make their home along the East Coast of the United States including the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean. They can also be found along the Southern coast of Brazil and northern Argentina. Interestingly enough, the individual populations of smooth dogfish seem to keep to themselves despite migrating every year.

For the most part, these sharks are found in shallow waters, normally 60 feet or less. On occasion though they can be found in much deeper waters. On very rare occasions these sharks have been found in mostly fresh water areas, but it is thought that they cannot survive for long in those waters. The smooth dogfish is commonly confused with it's cousin, the spiny dogfish. One of the biggest differences between the two sharks, and easily the easiest way to tell the difference is that the smooth dogfish does not have the dorsal spines that the spiny dogfish has. The gestation period of this shark is roughly 11 months. The mother shark will give birth to between 4 and 20 pups. At birth, the pups are roughly 13 inches in length.

The primary diet of this shark consists of small fish as well as shellfish. The teeth of this shark is by no means adequate for tearing flesh as they are pretty flat and pavement like. This shape makes them perfect for crushing the shells of clams, crabs, etc. As a result of these teeth being the way they are, these sharks pose zero threat to man. The primary predators of these sharks are larger sharks. Hammerheads and Blacktip sharks will frequently choose dogfish as their meal.

While the dogfish is harmless towards people, people can and are having major impacts on this shark. Many fishermen consider this shark as bycatch and a problem fish. Many will simply kill this shark just because it wound up on the hook, stealing their bait. Countless other dogfish are scooped up by commercial fishing vessels and are crushed by the weight of the other fish in the nets or die from the trauma suffered while being caught. Shark finning is also affecting this shark's populations as the fins are used in shark fin soup in Asia. This shark's body is often shipped overseas cheaply as meat for Fish N' Chips as a replacement for other fish.  The current population trend of this shark is currently unknown and probably varies from location to location. The most commercial fishing pressure on these sharks can be found off the northeast coast of the United States. With all the pressures these sharks are facing they are currently listed as NEAR THREATENED on the IUCN's Red List.

If you are ever out on a boat in the Atlantic Ocean and you happen to catch one of these guys or gals, take a good look at them. Keep in mind this animal is just as much a shark as any other species of shark in the Ocean. They have a job to do and they do it well. Just because this shark may have stolen your bait is not an excuse to kill it. Respect the shark and know that life can be tough for this smaller species that is dealing with a lot of pressure both inside and outside of the seas.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Double Shark Sunday

Hello everyone and welcome once again. Today I will be covering two quick topics, both of which are shark related. First I'll be taking a quick look at this year's Shark Week that has come to an end. Then I will take a look at some historical events.

So I have a confession to start off this blog. I had nooooooo idea that Shark Week was actually starting on June 26th. I don't know if it's because I haven't been watching much in the way of television as of late or what, but I basically accidentally stumbled upon it. I just happened to see last year's Monster Mako was on so I tuned in and saw a countdown to the start of Shark Week. So my thoughts on this year's installment of Shark Week from what I've seen is as follows. Overall I thought this was the quietest Shark Week I've seen in years. My social media accounts weren't blowing up with it as in years past, I didn't hear people at work talking about it, and I didn't even hear much about it from local aquariums. The programming itself from what I saw, was not all that terrible. Of course you had the stupid shows focusing in on sharks hunting people and how dangerous and deadly they are. At the same time though there were actually some scientific shows that I personally found quite interesting. Sharks versus Dolphins I found to be a really good show aside from a comment about tiger sharks being man eaters. It showed quite a few different scenarios in which various species of sharks and dolphins deal with each other. It was a pretty good show and if you have any interest in sharks or dolphins, it's certainly worth checking out. The shark fin cams were pretty cool to see on different shows and really gives the audience a look at what a shark sees during the course of a day. So my overall reaction to Shark Week this year as it wraps up is better than it's been. I don't feel the need to rip different shows apart as I have in the past as many of these shows focused more on the sharks and different research as opposed to sharks doing nothing but finding ways to hunt down humans. Shark Week concludes tonight and I hope it does respectfully so. My only major gripe this year was the constant promoting of the movie "The Shallows". This movie from all previews appears to be another shark attack Jaws esque movie. At one point during a promo someone says they made the movie while respecting the shark. Seeing a massive shark breach and grab a human then stalk another for the rest of the movie is not a sign of respect. Instead it's something that just further pushes the stereotype people have for most sharks. Vicious man eaters that is...

In other, more local news to me... Two days ago was the official 100th anniversary of the start of what is commonly known as the twelve days of terror. For those of you who don't know, the twelve days of terror took place from July 1st through 12th which saw four people killed and once person badly injured by a shark. Nobody knows as to whether or not there was one or multiple sharks were responsible for the attacks. Nobody even knows for sure which species of shark was responsible. Most people believe either the great white or the bull shark was responsible for these attacks. These attacks would change the country's view on sharks forever. It is these shark attacks that the movie Jaws was modeled after. Yes it is ironic that the shark in Jaws is a great white when a great white may not have even been responsible. While the 100th anniversary is certainly something to remember and those who lost their lives should absolutely be remembered I bring this anniversary up for a different reason.

Of course the shark attacks of 1916 made the front page of several local papers over the past few days, but something else has been floating moreso around social media. That is scientists claiming this year could see a repeat of the 1916 attacks due to the amount of sharks seen close to shore in recent years. Well..... So far this year an unidentified species of shark was spotted following a pod of dolphins off of Deal New Jersey which caused the lifeguards to pull all swimmers out of the water for several hours. Today I just watched a clip of a news broadcast showing a great white that was seen roughly three miles off the coast. Of course those two reports coupled with "scientists" claiming that there is a good chance for a series of attacks this year and the 100th anniversary of the 1916 attacks has gotten a lot of people on edge. All I can say about it all is that the sighting of two sharks means nothing. Sharks are seen every year. Some are close to shore, some aren't. Last year it was a hammerhead in close to shore. Before that it was a blue shark. The list goes on and on. Point is nobody was "attacked". The scientist claims? I have zero clue what science they are using to put that statistic together. Again. There are sharks here every year. Each year goes by without problem so I'm not sure why the alarms are going off that we're in for a repeat of 1916. Lastly all the reminders of 1916 fail to be more about the lives of the victims rather than the fact that they were attacked. Many people right now are going around saying "In 1916 sharks attacked 5 people in New Jersey!" yet so many don't know who or any of the circumstances surrounding the attacks. In closing, I do not think there is any kind of elevated threat of a shark attack in New Jersey. The tiny threat remains a tiny threat as there is no real credible reason to believe that there is going to be an outbreak of attacks.

Thank you all for reading and have a safe and happy 4th of July for those of you in the USA. My next blog won't be until after the wedding on July 16th, so look for something new to pop up sometime after that!

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

New Jersey Summer 2016 Shark Blog

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls.... Welcome to the annual summer blog where I take a little trip into the sharks that come to New Jersey and what it potentially means for the summer beachgoers that come from all over the country, nah, all over the world. In the past I went into a lot of detail on the sharks that visit New Jersey, but since I'll be continuing the New Jersey Fintastic Visitor series of blogs,  I'm going to try and post a few more pictures and less detail about these sharks since they'll all be touched on in detail later. So lets get right into this thing!

Every summer, the beaches of New Jersey are literally swamped with people. Some days in some locations, you couldn't find a spot on the sand to sit on if you tried your hardest. Yes, the beach is an incredibly popular place to be during the summer and so is the ocean. What many beachgoers are completely unaware of is that New Jersey is a sort of hot-spot for sharks. Now before hysteria happens.... Despite many species of sharks visiting New Jersey, attacks are incredibly rare. In fact the last fatal shark attack in New Jersey was back in 1926. Some of the shark species that visit New Jersey are shocking to say the least. Some are small, some are large, but the bottom line is this. Each and every one of the species deserves our highest respect as they are the kings and queens of the oceans and we are in their domain whenever we step foot into the ocean.

Some key things to remember is that sharks are not the monsters that the media portray them to be. These animals have been known to peacefully swim alongside humans more often than not. Divers are in constant contact with these animals and it's only once in a blue moon that you hear about a shark biting a human. Another thing to remember is the simple anatomy of the shark. Sharks don't have a sense of touch like we do. They can't reach out with their fins and get a feel for strange objects. Instead, their sense of touch is literally in their mouth. This is why you hear occasional stories of a shark seemingly chewing on a dock or a corner of a boat. They're trying to figure out what the object is, not trying to eat the object. I'm not going to go into the full details about what sharks do when their really trying to eat here. Another key thing to remember is when these animals are the most active. There is a general rule of thumb that these animals tend to be more active in the evening and in the morning. Another key to remember is that many large species of shark tend to pick off stragglers of groups. Expanding more on that key point. Many large species of shark, including ones I'll be looking at soon, are known to go after seals. The thing to remember is that surfers look like seals. Think about it. Seals have a long body similar to a surfboard. They have to front flippers similar to arms hanging off a surfboard and likewise the feet. The final key point is what has led to many shark attacks around the world. It's known as a case of missing identity. The shark bites a person and is then gone. Very, very rarely does a shark return for another bite. So with all of that being said....

Sharks are all over the world. It doesn't matter what beach you swim off of, sharks are there. That being said, there is no need to fear these animals. Respect them at all times. Respect that you are in their world. Understand that they are not like us and that many shark "attacks" are either cases of mistaken identity or a curious shark is simply trying to figure out just what a strange being in their water is. Respect when they are the most active and your swimming will be a real blast here in New Jersey. Even if you swim in the evening or the morning, your chances of being bitten by are shark are astronomically small to almost non existent. They just tend to be more active at these times. So lets look at some of our visitors!

Starting off pretty famous here. The great white shark is a visitor to New Jersey every year. In fact there is a large tagged female great white that migrates right up the cost every year. The shark's name is Mary Lee and she at this point is the bringer of summer and winter as she migrates past the state in the spring and fall. Other great whites also come by the shore quietly every year as well. Historically speaking, the great white is blamed officially for zero attacks in New Jersey. There is a lot of controversy as to whether or not the great white was the shark involved in the famous 1916 shark attacks in New Jersey. The major controversy lies in that the shark was never actually seen and a couple of the attacks took place in brackish water, an area that great whites typically don't venture into. Either way, great whites can be very aggressive but they are not not known to eat people. Nearly every time a great white has bitten someone, it has vanished instantly. Point in case, these animals are not man eaters, but just another visitor to the Jersey shore. They're rare, but they do come around every year. 

On the other end of the spectrum is the little smooth dogfish. This shark is a fisherman's nightmare. Countless fishermen catch these little guys while trying to catch a variety of bony fish. This shark is basically harmless. Besides the fact that they are small, they have very tiny teeth that are more like pebbles than actual teeth. There is nothing to fear from these little guys as they swim around picking off shellfish and crustaceans. They have been known to cause some panic from many uneducated beachgoers that somehow mistaken them for baby great whites and other large species of shark. 

The sand tiger shark is the most commonly seen species of large shark and is easily one of the more ferocious looking. One of the more popular aquarium sharks, the sand tiger is also known as the ragged tooth shark and the grey nurse shark. These sharks are usually slow swimming and frequently tolerate divers swimming right along side them. When startled, these sharks can produce an incredible, short lived, burst of speed. In fact they can whip their tales so hard that a void in the water is created and the collapse of that void sounds like thunder. Most impressive! The sand tiger is best known for it's crazy array of teeth that are visible at all times. The well known law when swimming with this shark is to respect it at all times and it will be very tolerant. As with any animal, harass it and it may not be so tolerant. The sand tiger shark cannot legally be targeted by fisherman due to it's conservation status. These sharks are most commonly found around structures such as ship wrecks and are much more active at night than during the day.

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If you're looking for a really crazy looking shark in New Jersey, look no further. Believe it or not, New Jersey is visited by scalloped hammerheads when the waters warm up. These sharks are extremely sensitive to it's surroundings and tend to shy away from humans. Over the past couple years, scalloped hammerheads have been seen very close to shore looking for small fish, rays, and crustaceans to eat. Despite their size and aggression towards their prey, these animals have never bitten a person in New Jersey's waters. Personally the hammerhead is one of my favorite sharks and I find it to be quite the fascinating animal. If you have the time and want to see something truly amazing, head on over to youtube and look up some videos of these sharks hunting or even just swimming. Some real awesome stuff there! Seeing these sharks in New Jersey's waters is a real treat as it is an Endangered Species in desperate need of protection.

Boaters beware!!!! New Jersey sits at the northern tip of the whale shark's range. The largest fish in the world will on rare instances visit the waters off of New Jersey. They are by no means frequent visitors, but none the less... The fish with the four foot wide mouth can at any time show up and swallow a person in one gulp... One problem. The throat of a whale shark is roughly the size of a quarter so no worries, this shark can't eat you. Top it off with this... The whale shark has never once bitten a human or even harmed a human. In fact the most whale sharks have done to humans involve stealing fish out of a net and pushing a boat. If you are on a boat this summer and see a spotted fin sticking out of the water. Consider yourself incredibly lucky, you could have just stumbled upon a whale shark!

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The sandbar shark is another larger species of shark that inhabits the waters of New Jersey. This shark can be found in varying depths of water and have been known to come very close to shore. These fast moving sharks are very skittish and despite their size, tend to only go after small to medium sized fish. These sharks, along with the dogfish, are often mislabeled as sand sharks (fun fact: sand sharks don't exist). This species of shark is another one that has been known to cause a bit of panic among beachgoers as they have a very large dorsal fin that can be mistaken for a great white if you are unfamiliar with sharks. As is the case with the other large sharks I've mentioned, there is no recorded attack by a sandbar shark in the state of New Jersey. That being said, I don't have any information about whether or not these sharks have bitten any fishermen who've caught these sharks. In that case though I certainly don't blame the shark and I hope no-one would.

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The highly migratory blue shark will swim by the Jersey shore during the summer months. Sometimes these sharks make their way into shallow waters as one was seen basically surfing through the waves a few years ago. These sharks can be aggressive, but as is the case with the other larger sharks, the blue shark has never bitten anyone in the waters of New Jersey. These sharks are really quite fascinating as they will cross the ocean many times throughout the course of their lives. In addition, unlike most sharks, the blue shark is known to swim in schools. Strength in numbers!

Another offshore shark that will from time to time venture inshore is the porbeagle. It looks like a great white, but it's not. It's only on rare instances that these sharks have been seen close to shore. Much like the great white, this shark is partially warm blooded, so they can venture into cooler waters where some other species of shark cant. Also, much like the great white, this shark has seen it's population decrease due to intense fishing. The porbeagle is currently a protected species and one of New Jersey's lesser known visitors. Common theme: There is no record of a porbeagle biting a person in New Jersey.

The thresher shark is another offshore species of shark that visits New Jersey. This shark will stun it's prey by smacking it with it's oversized tail making it an easy meal. Legend tells of fishermen who were beheaded by the tail in intense battles with these sharks. Of course that is just legend and there is no actual account of a person being beheaded by a thresher shark. In fact, thresher sharks are not known to be aggressive towards humans at all, unless of course they are on the end of a fishing hook. No, the thresher would much rather smack some small fish around to snack on. Seeing on of these sharks close to shore would be rare as they tend to inhabit deeper, cooler waters.

Speaking of offshore... The shortfin mako shark will also visit New Jersey during the summer months. Much like the thresher and porbeagle, to see one of these sharks close to shore would be surprising to say the least as they enjoy the cooler, deeper waters off the coast. Shortfin makos are an incredibly powerful species of shark that is capable of launching itself 30 feet out of the water. They can also swim at speeds nearing 60 miles per hour. The shark is specially designed for both speed and power. The ambush ability these sharks have is simply amazing. Since they rarely come in contact with humans these sharks tend to be forgotten by folks swimming in the shallows. Still, they are another large visitor to New Jersey. Much as is the case with other sharks listed. There are no recorded attacks on swimmers, but they tend to become very aggressive towards fishermen who have them hooked. Sometimes they have been known to launch themselves onto a boat, injuring the fishermen in the process. Due to overfishing the population of the short fin mako is in decline with less and less large makos seen each year.

The bull shark is another controversial shark that will inhabit the waters of New Jersey. Unlike many of the other large species of shark, the bull shark will come very close to shore and can be very aggressive. This species along with the great white are the two sharks that have been mostly commonly looked at as the sharks responsible for the 1916 New Jersey shark attacks. Many people believe that a bull shark may have been responsible for the attacks as they are known to move into fresh water and brackish water areas. In fact the bull shark has been spotted as far inland as Saint Lois in the Mississippi River. In New Jersey, these sharks are not commonly seen and there has been no confirmed attacks by a bull shark in New Jersey's waters. As is the case with many of the other sharks in New Jersey, this species of shark is currently seeing a population decline.

The list seems endless doesn't it? The next shark is the tiger shark. This is another large species of shark that can be quite aggressive. Many people refer to these sharks as living trash cans as all kinds of random stuff (licence plates for example) have been seen inside these animals. The tiger shark is known to be aggressive, but as is the case with nearly all sharks off New Jersey, there is no confirmed attack by a tiger shark.

I'm going to stop the list there. I will say that more species than the ones I listed visit New Jersey during the summer months. The main point to look at is this. Out of all these sharks, including many well known species, only 2 of them have ever been suspected of biting a human unprovoked. That number folks dates back to the 1500s. It is very, very safe to swim in the ocean off of New Jersey (outside of rip currents, etc). If you come to the beaches here, do not fear the ocean because of the sharks. These animals are at the top of their food chain. They hunt anything from crabs to seals to even dolphins. Humans are simply not on the menu. Mistakes happen. Look how many mistakes we make on a day to day basis. It happens. It happens for sharks too. Cases of mistaken identity are mistakes. Nothing more. Yes, the mistake can cause a lot of damage, but that is the end result of a large animal biting a small animal. In the end, these animals are really just as every bit curious of us as we are of them. We are in their world in the oceans. 

I've spent a good amount of time talking to fishermen and divers living along the shore and the story is the same. Respect them and they'll respect you. Divers have seen tiger sharks, as well as nurse sharks hanging near an inlet. Fishermen have seen makos breach 20 plus feet in the air and land safely back in the water. Boaters have seen a great white slowly swim up to bump a boat and go about their business. Swimmers have seen hammerheads, blue sharks, and sandbar sharks tearing through the surf without incident. Point in case. None of these animals cared in the least bit that a person was in the water with them. I can't say it enough. Show the shark respect and he or she will in all likelyhood show it back. So get out there and enjoy the ocean. Don't worry about sharks, but if you happen to see one consider yourself lucky. They are always in the ocean, but rarely seen.

If you were hoping to see more information on these species of sharks, stay tuned as later this summer I'll be highlighting many in their own blog as part of the New Jersey Fintastic Visitors blog series. I'm hoping to get one more blog out, possibly about Shark Week, before the wedding! If by some chance I can't get to it until after, then I hope all of you have a great time until return in late July :)