A dead shark found on an RI beach could benefit science
Watch Hill, Rhode Island – Onlookers were treated to an unusual sight on a cold Rhode Island beach on Wednesday when a massive shark was found dead. Now, a necropsy will be performed on the creature to try to determine how it died and what can be learned about the species that prefers cool ocean waters off the coast of New England.
Many people might think that when temperatures drop during the winter in Rhode Island, sharks, like many New Englanders, head south in search of warmer weather.
While this may be true for many shark species, it is not the case for the porbeagle shark, which thrives in cold waters. The waters off the coast of New England are ideal for foraging during the winter.
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“The porbeagle is much less well-known than its close relatives, the white shark and the mako, but it is a fascinating, formidable shark and in fact one of New England’s most bruising fish of the year,” said John Dowd, executive director of the Atlantic Ocean Shark Institute.
The Atlantic Shark Institute said in a Facebook post that the dead female shark was discovered on the eastern shore of Watch Hill, a western area. It was 8 feet long, 8 inches wide, and weighed hundreds of pounds.
“The female porbeagle was very large and could be of great value to science once a necropsy is performed,” Dodd said.
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Depending on the time of year and the age of the shark, it could have been pregnant at the time of its death, which “would provide a truly unique opportunity for scientific advancement,” he said.
However, it was not easy to retrieve the dead shark from the beach, and a plan was made to take it from the beach and into an Atlantic Shark Institute truck to bring it in for a necropsy.
A man from Narragansett, Rhode Island, was the first to report the dead shark and contacted the Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, Connecticut.
Employees there then reached out to the Atlantic Shark Institute. From there, a plan was hatched to recover the shark.
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“These sharks are often reclaimed by the tide, so time is always of the essence,” Dodd said. “We are bringing sampling tools in case we can’t move the shark, but the goal was to move it to NOAA’s Apex Predator Lab in Narragansett.”
Dodd said there were no obvious signs of trauma on the shark, which can sometimes be visible when it is found dead on the beach. Since no injury was identified, transporting the shark to Narragansett was even more important.
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With the help of several people, the shark was wrapped in a tarpaulin, tied up and pulled to shore.
It was eventually loaded into an Atlantic Shark Institute vehicle and brought to the Narragansett facility for dissection.
“It’s really a perfect example of how everyone can help with research,” Dodd said. “The shark was already expired, and that wasn’t going to change. But now it will help science tremendously, and that doesn’t happen without the help of a lot of people.”