slides: RI Shark Week 2012
Monday, August 13, 2012
Discovery Channel’s Shark Week has taken on a cult following of epic proportions. Shark Week’s Facebook has more likes than any rock star can boast. And what’s not to like? Sharks are fascinating creatures with the power to inspire respect and to terrify. Get primed on RI's sharks, right here.
What's Out There?
What's swimming off the Rhode Island coast? Plenty, it turns out, according to Dr. Brad Wetherbee, one of Rhode Island’s premier shark specialists who teaches in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Rhode Island.
“Sand tiger sharks, sandbar sharks, smooth dogfish, spiny dogfish, and [great] white sharks," populate our waters, he says. "And a little farther offshore there are blue sharks, mako sharks, thresher sharks and basking sharks.” (Mako shark photo: Joe Romeiro)
RI's Biggest Shark
Wetherbee says that the biggest shark in Rhode Island waters is the Basking Shark, which can reach lengths of 45 feet - which is bigger than a school bus. However, don't fret about these giant fish as they are harmless filter feeders and have no interest in humans. (Photo: Greg Skomal/NOAA Fisheries Service)
Great Whites in RI
Not surprisingly, Dr. Wetherbee says that “[great] white sharks are the most dangerous sharks in Rhode Island waters, but they are not very common.” In fact, in the past 340 years, there has only been one shark attack in Rhode Island waters. “You're going to drown or get hit by a car crossing the street to the beach before you get bitten by a shark in Rhode Island,” he says. (Photo: sharkdiver.com)
2010: Shark Advisory!
It was a busy shark season on our coasts in 2010, and was, in fact, the first time the Coast Guard issued a shark advisory for the Northeast, warning recreational boaters and paddlers to be watchful of predatory sharks that could capsize a small boat or kayak.
And why not? Three shark sightings in one day at Misquamicut Beach in Westerly prompted officials to close the beach temporarily to swimmers. At nearby Horseneck Beach in Westport, two shark sightings in three days in early August prompted a beach closing. (Photo: Joe Romeiro)
2011: Shark in Westerly
Last August, a shark came very close to shore at Watch Hill's East Beach, and was within feet of swimmers. Bruce Lechleiter, visting New England with his family from Ohio, noticed the shark's fin while photographing his kids playing in the surf.
Lechleiter told The Westerly Sun that one of his three daughters was in fact, "obsessed with Shark Week" on the Discovery Channel and had been nervous about going into the water. (Photo: Bruce Leichleter)
While sharks are spotted off Rhode Island's shores, attacks have been extremely rare. In Rhode Island there has only been one confirmed, unprovoked shark attack since 1670 (see next slide for the grisly details).
In all of New England there have only been five total shark attacks since 1670, two of which were fatal. (Photo: Pietervisser)
RI's Worst Shark Attack
The only death by shark our state has seen might as well have been a scene from Jaws. In 1816 a young boy was attacked while swimming to shore from a vessel in Bristol Harbor. When the boy's mangled remains were found a few days later, it was discovered that he'd been deprived of his arms and legs. (Photo: Brocken Inaglory)
Shark Attack Survivor
The only other Rhode Islander with first-hand experience with a shark is Laurie Boyett of Wakefield. On vacation in Hawaii in 1999, Boyett was swimming with her nephew about 300 yards offshore when a shark bit her right buttock. As she fought to free herself, she injured her fingers as well. The pair was rescued by two hotel workers.
The retired school office worker still loves the ocean and swims daily five months a year. She was introduced to shark conservation through the Pew Environment Group and is now a strong supporter. She was among a group of survivors, shown here, who worked for passage of the U.S. Shark Conservation Act, which closed loopholes in the nation’s shark finning ban. (Photo: Pew Environment Group)
Who's Killing Whom?
Despite low numbers, the fear of shark attacks has driven an industry where shark fishing is prevalent, and the negative effects on the shark population are showing. “Sharks have life history characteristics that make them vulnerable to overfishing and many shark populations around the world (and US) have been overfished, are in trouble and need to be conserved," Wetherbee says. "Sharks kill 10-15 people around the world in a typical year, but people kill as many as 70 million sharks.” (Photo: Block Island Boat Basin)