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spiny dogfish squalus acanthias
Characterized by having no anal
fin, and having a spine on front
of each dorsal fin.
You can't spend time on the
water without encountering this
small shark. Now the dogfish is a
year round pest.
Schools of dogfish can go on for
I thank spotter pilot Wayne
Davis for sending me this photo.
General Shark Information
It is unlikely anyone in New England would encounter all of the shark species listed on the home page;
no matter how much time you are on the water. Some of those species are not here in many numbers.
An unusual appearance of other shark species, not listed on the home page, such as a bull shark,
bonnet head shark, bigeye thresher, blacktip, nurse shark, Atl. sharpnose or angel shark could occur,
since their northern range on the East Coast puts them close to southern New England. The Greenland
shark could also stray south enough to make it into our waters. Any info of encounters on the above
mentioned species would be appreciated. - Tom
There are 34 shark families.
In some cases only one shark species may exist
in a family, i.e. the basking shark-zebra shark-
goblin shark- whale shark -megamouth shark-
crocodile shark-barbelled hound shark-
are the only members in their family.
There are cases where some land species have
interbred; such as the wolf, Canis lupus, and the
dog, Canis familiarus. A lion father and a tiger
mother produce an animal called a Liger.
A tiger father and a lion mother produce a Tigon.
Shark species can only breed amongst themselves
and they share distinctive characteristics that
separate them from other species in and outside
of their genus. (see next paragraph)
In 2011 there was a new claim--The Australian black tip shark, (Carcharhinus tilstoni) and the
common black tip shark (C. limbatus) have overlapping distributions along the northern and eastern
Australian coastline. There are biologists who claimed in 2011, that these two species have interbred.
Some of the shark species encountered by New England boaters and fishermen.
Blue sharks, Prionace glauca, They will be plentiful in August and September.
They are world record size, and our most common large shark.
We had many bluesharks here in Mass. Bay in 2014, especially on the east side of Stellwagen Bank.
Makos, Isurus oxyrinchus, A few makos will show up in July, especially the large makos, but more
are here in Aug. and September. July has produced some mako catches in Massachusetts waters
where the female mako has weighed in over a thousand pounds. The IGFA world record mako 1,221
lbs, was caught in Mass. The Mass. state record mako is even heavier at 1,324 lbs.
Threshers, Alopias vulpinus, Small numbers north of Cape Cod, but more plentiful on the southside.
Porbeagles, Lamna nasus, are here year round, but not in great numbers.
There seemed to be more around in 2013 and 2014.
Sandtigers, Carcharias taurus, made such a great comeback in the last 10 years that I gave them a
page in this site. Plymouth and Duxbury Harbors and Boston Harbor have had a big increase in
sandtigers. They are usually found in the shallower coastal waters, and in bays.
White sharks, Carcharodon carcharias, are in our waters and making a comeback here.
They are a protected species as of 1997. Thru Sept. 2014 a total of 55 have been tagged.
Sandbar shark, Carcharhinus plumbeus, usually caught off the south facing beaches of Cape Cod,
and the offshore Islands. Called by many the "brown" shark beause of its brown color. Very hard to
distinguish from a dusky, Carcharhinus obscurus. The sandbar has a very large dorsal.
Basking sharks, Cetorhinus maximus, are here during the summer along with the whites.
Fishes of the Gulf of Maine
(Henry B. Bigelow and William C.
Schroeder, 1953) "voracious
almost beyond belief, the dogfish
entirely deserves its bad
reputation. Not only does it harry
and drive off mackerel, herring,
and even fish as large as cod and
haddock, but it destroys vast
numbers of them. Again and
again fishermen have described
packs of dogs dashing among
schools of mackerel, and even
attacking them within the seines,
biting through the net, and
releasing such of the catch as
escapes them. At one time or
another they prey on practically
all species of Gulf of Maine fish
smaller than themselves, and
squid are also a regular article of
diet whenever they are found."
Below are species encountered in New England waters.
Above is a sandbar shark Carcharhinus plumbeus (now a protected species)
They are in New England, mostly caught off the beaches on the south side of Cape Cod and the Islands.
I want you to take notice of several characteristics of this sandbar species.
The eyes are yellow and not black like some shark species. The brown color is why many anglers call them
"brown sharks." The oversized first dorsal, that is located way up on the pectorals, is an identifying mark.
On the back is a ridge. It looks like a seam between the dorsals. This ridge is present on some other sharks,
and that group of sharks are know as "ridgeback" sharks.
The tiger, Galeocerdo cuvier, has a ridge on its back, but it would be hard to mistake a tiger for any other
shark species - not so with the two other ridgeback sharks in our area, the dusky and the sandbar.
The dusky, Carcharhinus obscurus, and the sandbar, Carcharhinus plumbeus, look very much alike, and
their teeth are similar. If the identity is narrowed down to one or the other, looking at their scales with a
magnifying glass is one method of identifying them.
If the dermal denticles overlap - it is a dusky.
If the dermal denticles are not overlapped - it is a sandbar.
People in southern New England have claimed to have
caught bull sharks, Carcharhinus leucas, but when inspected,
the ridge on the back indicates they were not bull sharks,
but more than likely duskys or sandbars.
A blacktip, Carcharhinus limbatus, might come into our
waters. There are plenty of them south of us. I believe
there is a better chance of that happening than having a
bull shark show up.
Sandbar shark, Carcharhinus plumbeus.
Also called the "brown shark"
I had a conversation with a knowledgeable
commercial fisherman who told me he netted a
blacktip on the south side of Cape Cod. The
description sounded good, and he has caught
blacktips while fishing in Florida, and is familiar
with the species. This photo is a Texas blacktip.
There are 8 species of hammerheads.
One of those species definitely makes it
into our waters in New England - that
species is the smooth hammerhead Spyrna
The experts claim the smooth hammerhead
could range as far north as Nova Scotia in
the summer. Still, this would be an unusual
catch anywhere in New England, especially
north of Cape Cod.
Capt. Bill Brown caught this hammerhead
and several more off Block Island, R.I.
You could get a blacktip mixed
up with a ridgeback sandbar or
dusky shark. A blacktip is not a
"ridgeback" shark, so there
would be no ridge on it's back.
Protected species - release unharmed
Dusky, Carcharhinus obscurus - has a ridge on
its back between dorsals.
The dusky does not venture north of Cape Cod.
Small duskys and sandbar sharks of the same
size are very hard to tell apart. Both species
are on the south side of Cape Cod.
There are 3 additional look alike ridgeback
sharks on the East Coast; the silky, bignose
and night shark. But they are not seen in
coastal New England.
On Cape Cod's south side you only have to
deal with two look alike ridgeback sharks- the
dusky and sandbar sharks. The tiger is also a
ridgeback shark but you cant' mistake it for
another shark species.
The IGFA record for a dusky is 764 lbs.
In 1999 the Dusky became a protected species.
Capt. Bill Brown photo of a dusky on the right
I can't recover the original e-mail so I don't
know who to credit for this great photo. - Tom
On the south side of
Cape Cod you could
encounter a tiger
shark. It would be
unusual but they
have been caught
It would be difficult
to mistake a tiger
for another shark
serrated teeth and a
squared off head.)
Tom Burns photo
The Australian black tip shark
(Carcharhinus tilstoni) and the
common black tip shark (C. limbatus)
have overlapping distributions along
the northern and eastern Australian
coastline. These shark species have
been known to interbreed.
This is one of