WATCH HILL, R.I. – Spectators were met with an unusual sight on a chilly Rhode Island beach Wednesday when a massive shark was found dead. Now, a necropsy will be performed on the creature to try and determine how it died and what can be learned from the species that prefer the colder ocean waters off the New England coast.
Many people would think that when temperatures drop during winter in Rhode Island, sharks, like many New England residents, head south in search of warmer weather.
While that may be true for many shark species – it’s not the case for the porbeagle shark, which thrives in colder water. The waters off the New England coast are ideal for it to hunt for food during the winter.
"The porbeagle is much less known than their close relatives, the white shark and the mako, but it’s a gorgeous and formidable shark that is truly New England’s year-round bruiser, Executive Director of the Atlantic Shark Institute Jon Dodd said.
In a Facebook post, the Atlantic Shark Institute said the dead female shark was discovered on East Beach in Watch Hill, an area of Westerly. It was 8 feet long and 8 inches wide and weighed hundreds of pounds.
"The female porbeagle was quite large and could be of significant value to science once a necropsy is performed," Dodd said.
He said that based on the time of year, and the shark’s age, she could have been pregnant at the time of her death, which would "provide a really unique opportunity to advance science."
It wasn’t easy recovering the dead shark from the beach, however, and a plan was devised to get it off the beach and into an Atlantic Shark Institute truck to be brought in for the necropsy.
The staff there then reached out to the Atlantic Shark Institute. From there, a plan was devised to retrieve the shark.
"The tide often reclaims these sharks, so time is always of the essence," Dodd said. "We bring tools to take samples in the event that we can’t move the shark, but the goal was to get her to the 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 they’re found dead on the beach. Because no trauma was identified, getting the shark to Narragansett was much more important.
With the help of several people, the shark was wrapped in a tarp, tied down and dragged up the beach.
It was eventually loaded into the Atlantic Shark Institute's vehicle and brought to the Narragansett facility for the necropsy.
"It really is the perfect example of how everyone can help with research," Dodd said. "The shark had already expired, and that wasn’t going to change. But, now, she will aid significantly to science, and that doesn’t happen without the help of so many people."