Not one, but two big bull sharks turned up this week in the Potomac River - prompting the usual media focus on how dangerous they can be to humans. This time, though, the tables were turned, and the Chesapeake Bay may be the poorer for it.
Willy Dean, a commercial fisherman in St. Mary's County, put a net near the mouth of the Potomac earlier this week to collect some cownose rays for biologists to study, according to The Washington Post. He got more than he bargained for when he found an 8-foot bull shark in the net.
"When I first seen it, it was like 'Jaws' -- we need a bigger boat!" Dean told The Post. He said he spent two hours trying to wrestle the shark (seen above) into his 22-foot boat. The next day, another St. Mary's fisherman, Thomas Crowder, reported finding another 8-foot bull shark in his net, the Post reported.
Sharks aren't uncommon in the Chesapeake Bay, especially in Virginia waters. But bull sharks have been sighted before - a 420-pound, 8 1/2-footer was caught near the Bay Bridge in 1987, The Baltimore Sun reported.
Bull sharks are said to be among the more aggressive predators of the sea, figuring in many reports of attacks on humans. They're also apparently more wide-ranging than most, capable of tolerating fresh water. But there've been no reported shark attacks on people in the bay. And in this case, neither shark survived its encounter with humans.
These sharks aren't classified as endangered, so why lament their loss? As BayDaily blogger Tom Pelton pointed out, there've been sharp declines in shark populations, largely the result of fishing pressure. Biologists in 2007 reported a more than 99 percent drop in numbers of bull sharks, among others.
The loss of such top predators has ripple effects in nature. One scientists have noted is an explosion of cownose rays and other creatures on which sharks feed. The kite-shaped rays feast on the Bay's shellfish. So, if only for the sake of our struggling clams and oysters, let's hope there are more sharks out there - and that we can steer clear of each other.
(Photo courtesy Buzz's Marina)