Long Island Sound is ordinarily host to only four species of sharks: the Sand Tiger, Sandbar (=Brown), Spiny Dogfish and Smooth Dogfish. A few other species are occasional visitors to the Sound, but one species was likely never expected to swim these waters. In May of 2019, a Great White Shark was detected in the western Sound, off Greenwich, Connecticut. First tagged in Nova Scotia by OCEARCH, the nearly ten-foot long Great White, named Cabot, was the first of its kind to have been spotted in the Sound. Earlier that year, Cabot had been detected on the coast of Florida. A short time later, it had made it to the Delaware coast as it migrated its way back north for the summer. It apparently then entered the Sound. Great Whites are said to be able to travel between 100 to 150 miles per day!
Shark attacks on Long Island Sound are very uncommon and none have been fatal. According to the International Shark Attack File, the first recorded shark attack in its waters occurred in August of 1890, near Bridgeport, Connecticut. Vacationer Raymond Odell was clamming near shore when he was bitten on left his arm by a shark. Armed with heavy clam hook, he battled his attacker while others nearby came to his aid. He suffered deep lacerations from the shark’s teeth. Forty-three years later, there would be another shark attack, this one in the Mystic River. On August 26, 1933, the Hartford Courant reported that a young lady, Helen Clark, had been bitten on her foot by an unidentified species of shark while swimming in the river. It would be another 27 years until the next recorded assault occurred in the Sound.
While free diving off Bridgeport, about 100 or more feet from shore, Clyde Trudeau spotted a shark’s fin breaking the surface. Moments later, he was bitten on his arm, receiving superficial lacerations. The area beaches were immediately closed while five police boats were launched as well as two observation helicopters. The police reportedly spotted at least four sharks swimming away from the area. To date however, that was the last known shark attack on Long Island Sound.
Spiny dogfish are the most common species of sharks found in Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island. They also make their way into Long Island Sound where Scuba divers have sometimes encountered them near the opening to Smithtown Bay, New York. The males grow to about 3.3 feet in length while females reach a length of about 4.5 feet. They can weight 8 pounds or more.
The species ranges from Labrador to Florida with their largest population between Nova Scotia and Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. They winter at depths of up to 3,000 feet and return to the coast as water temperatures increase in the spring. Like smooth dogfish, also found in area waters, both species swim in large schools with individuals of similar size. As they chase down smaller fish, they resemble a pack of dogs, giving them the name “dogfish.”
Both spiny and smooth dogfish have long pointed snouts. Spiny dogfish dorsal fins (on their back) have a large spine in front of both of the fins. They use their spines to protect themselves from predators. However, anyone fishing for them should handle their catch with care. Their spines can cause a painful wound.
Smooth dogfish have two large dorsal fins without spines. They range from the Bay of Fundy to Uruguay, but are most common from Chesapeake Bay to South Carolina. The species generally inhabit inland bays and inshore waters, migrating north and south with the seasons. They grow to about 5-feet in length with a maximum weight of 26-pounds.
When fishing for dogfish, a light rod, 5 to 7-feet in length is often recommended. The spinning reel should be fitted with at least a 10 to 12-pound test monofilament line. Using a small or medium size claw hook, attach chunks of bunker, squid or any other similar bait. But they are not fussy; most baits work equally well in getting them to bite. To be sure to get the bait well positioned on the bottom, attach a pyramid sinker, tied about 5 to 6 feet above the hook. Jig the bait and once a dogfish strikes, allow it to run a bit before reeling it in. If it is a spiny dogfish, again, beware of its spines!
Recreational fishing for smooth and spiny dogfish have no required minimum size. Possession is unlimited and the season is open year-round. They are however, an important part of the marine ecosystem. It is wise to fish for them on a basis of catch and release without, if possible, taking it out of the water.
Can you eat dogfish? When landed on a boat deck or on the surface of a dock, their appearance is hardly inviting. However, they are a popular food in England, where they are often served as fish and chips. They are also said to be tasty when their flesh is smoked, and they apparently make a great seafood chowder. There are a number of dogfish recipes online.
Sand tiger sharks swim with their jaw partially opened, exposing a set of fear-provoking, snarly teeth. They can grow to about 10 feet in length. But despite their appearance, they are not considered man-eaters. Their size, fierce looks and ease of adapting to a confined space, make them a favorite species for public aquariums. Unfortunately, one of two divers swimming with sand tigers in a South African aquarium managed to incite an attack. Attempting to have a passing sand tiger turn in the opposite direction, one of the divers grabbed its pectoral (side) fin. The shark “attacked the other diver, biting his arm and shaking it like a rag dog!” “Live and learn.” In coastal waters, any serious incident between one of these sharks and a swimmer has generally been provoked by an activity such as spearfishing.
Sandbar sharks grow to a length of about 8 feet. They range from the Gulf of Maine to Argentinian waters, at a depth of 60 to well over 200 feet. Along the coast, they enter shallow bays where females may give birth. Chesapeake Bay is apparently one of their more important East coast nurseries. They also give birth in other coastal waters such as Long Island Sound.
Sandbar sharks have rarely been associated with attacks on humans, However, on August 6, 2021, a 12-year-old may have been bitten by the species, just off a Maryland beach. She suffered lacerations to her leg. To avoid such an incident, it is best not to swim alone, and before entering sea water, remove reflective objects such as jewelry.
According to HMS, Atlantic Highly Migratory Species, it is prohibited to take Sand Tiger, Dusky and Sandbar sharks along with a long list of other migratory species of sharks. Should you hook into one of these species, release it immediately without any attempt to raise it out of the water. For further instructions with a complete list of prohibited sharks, go to the NOAA website: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/action/atlantic-sharks-recreational-minimum-sizes-and-bag-limits
NOAA also has a Shark Identification and Federal Regulations Guide online: https://media.fisheries.noaa.gov/dam-migration/shark-id-placard-2018-web.pdf.