Tiger shark nursery found near New York City

Off the coast of Long Island, scientists have discovered an area where young sand tiger sharks like to hang out.

Heribert Proepper/AP
Michael Kandler, left, and Thomas Ulrich, right, measure the sand tiger shark (Carcharias taurus) named "Sharkline" at the sea center in Burg on the island of Fehmarn, northern Germany, during the annual inventory on Jan. 28, 2010.

Even sharks like to summer on New York's Long Island.

Scientists have discovered a group of sand tiger sharks, a scary-looking but docile animal, has been swimming up from the south to bask in the waters of Long Island's Great South Bay every summer for the past several years, establishing a rare sand shark nursery of sorts on Long Island's southern shore.

The young pups, ranging in age from a few months to five years, appear to use the area as a sort of sand shark nursery, a place to feed and grow away from predators, Merry Camhi, director of New York Seascape, Wildlife Conservation Society's local marine conservation program, said.

“Sand tiger shark pups are not born here but migrate from down south to spend the summers as juveniles in New York’s coastal waters,” Dr. Camhi said in a statement. “The acoustically tagged animals in our study will help us better understand where the sharks go, their habitat needs and how we can better protect them.”

Scientists at the New York Aquarium first learned that sand sharks were visiting New York waters when they received a picture of a dead juvenile found in a marina in the Great South Bay in 2011. Local fisherman and boaters said people had been catching the small sharks in the bay for years.

Scientists used acoustic transmitters and tagging to determine that the sharks were returning to the bay each summer, most likely because it is a safe place to feed and grow. So far 15 sharks have been tagged there, 10 of them in the past year.

By tracking the sharks' movements, scientists can learn more about the migratory behavior and habitat needs of sand tiger sharks, about which little is currently known.

Despite their fearsome appearance – sand tiger sharks have pointy heads; sharp, protruding teeth; and a bulky body studded with dorsal and pectoral fins – the small sharks are actually non-aggressive creatures. They can grow as long as 10 feet and weigh up to 350 pounds.

Sand tigers are born live in the waters of the southeastern US. The juvenile sharks appear to migrate north in the spring to spend summers in New York waters before returning south in the fall.

Due to overfishing, being caught in nets, and other hazards, sand tiger sharks are classified as "vulnerable" and some populations as "critically endangered." Their low reproductive rate – female sharks give birth to one or two pups every two years – doesn't help.

Which is why scientists are hoping the newly-discovered sand tiger shark nursery off Long Island will help Atlantic populations of the shark thrive and multiply.

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