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Sharks

If you observe a shark, please report your sighting using the NYSDEC Shark Spotter digital survey (link leaves DEC's website).

Ecological Role

Sand tiger shark swimming with school of fish
Sand tiger shark swimming with school of fish.

In the ocean, sharks are apex predators at the top of the food chain generally having few natural predators. They have been successfully roaming the seas for over 400 million years. As apex predators, sharks play an important role in regulating and maintaining the balance of intricate marine ecosystems. They remove sick and weak individuals from prey populations, and regulate species abundance, distribution, and diversity throughout the marine environment.

Sharks directly influence the abundance of their prey through predation. This in turn affects the abundance of the prey species of those animals, and so on. Predator avoidance can also change spatial distributions of the sharks' prey, ultimately influencing the community structure of marine habitats. The presence of sharks increases the species diversity of an ecosystem by preventing one species from monopolizing a limited resource, and preventing unchecked predation by other predatory species lower in the food chain.

Removal of apex predators like sharks can have complex and unpredictable consequences to marine ecosystems, which researchers are only beginning to understand.

Sharks had always been the apex predators of the oceans, until humans began refining our ability to harvest marine resources. Technology has improved many aspects of human life, but it has also given us the capacity to over-harvest finite resources.

New York Shark Species

Learn about the most common shark species that share New York's waters below:

Many species of sharks can be found in New York's marine waters. Sharks can range in sizes from 4 feet, such as dogfish sharks, up to 40 feet, such as the basking shark. The biological characteristics of sharks can also differ greatly, including the prey they feed on and their hunting styles. These differences impact the type of habitat they are often found in. For more information about shark safety and fishing, visit Coastal Sharks.

If you observe a shark, please report your sighting using the NYSDEC Shark Spotter digital survey (link leaves DEC's website).

Basking Shark

(Cetorhinus maximus)

Basking shark feeding with mouth open and exposed gill plates
Basking shark, Photo by: Matias Alexandro

SIZE: up to 40 feet

HABITAT: Mostly offshore. Often found near the surface.

BIOLOGY:

  • Filter feeder: consumes zooplankton
  • Very slow swimmer
  • Reaches maturity at around 16 - 20 feet (12 - 16 years)
  • Lives 50 or more years
  • Gives live birth (ovoviviparous) to few pups
  • Gestation period: 3 years
CONSERVATION & STOCK STATUS
Federal & State Federal Listing IUCN CITES Overfishing
Prohibited Species Species of Concern Vulnerable Appendix II No

PUBLIC SAFETY:

  • Not considered dangerous, however its sheer size and power should be respected.
  • Contact with its skin should be avoided due to its large dermal denticles which can inflict injuries.
  • There are no shark bite incidents reported for this species (ISAF, 2018).

Blue Shark

(Prionace glauca)

Blue shark swimming in open ocean
Blue shark

SIZE: up to 12.5 feet

HABITAT: Mostly Offshore

BIOLOGY:

  • Generally a slow swimmer, but is capable of moving fast
  • Prey: squid and small fish
  • Reaches maturity at around 6 - 7 feet (4 - 7 years)
  • Lives up to 20 years
  • Gives birth to live young that are nourished by a placental yolk sac until they are fully developed (viviparous); litters average about 30 pups
  • Gestation period: 9 - 12 months
CONSERVATION & STOCK STATUS
IUCN Overfishing Overfished
Near Threatened No No

PUBLIC SAFETY:

  • Curious and will approach humans if food is available.
  • A relatively docile shark species.
  • Anglers should always use caution when handling sharks.
  • The International Shark Attack File lists 13 unprovoked shark bite incidents worldwide for this species, 4 of which were fatal (ISAF, 2018).

Common Thresher Shark

(Alopias vulpinus)

Thresher shark swimming in open ocean
Thresher shark

SIZE: up to 25 feet

HABITAT: Coastal and offshore

BIOLOGY:

  • Will heard schools of fish and use its large caudal fin (tail) to stun its prey
  • Strong swimmers. Sometimes observed leaping out of the water.
  • Prey: small schooling fish such as butterfish, bluefish, menhaden, mackerel, and sand lance
  • Reaches maturity at around 10 - 15 feet (8 - 12 years)
  • Lives 45 - 50 years
  • Gives live birth (ovoviviparous) to approximately 2 to 4 pups
  • Gestation period: 12 months
CONSERVATION & STOCK STATUS
IUCN CITES Overfishing Overfished
Vulnerable Appendix II Unknown Unknown

PUBLIC SAFETY:

  • Not considered dangerous.
  • This species is wary of humans and difficult to approach.
  • Anglers should always use caution when handling sharks.
  • There are no shark bite incidents reported for this species (ISAF, 2018).

Dusky Shark

(Carcharhinus obscurus)

Dusky shark swimming in shallow water
Dusky shark

SIZE: up to 14 feet

HABITAT: Coastal and offshore

BIOLOGY:

  • Prey: bony and cartilaginous fishes, cephalopods, crustaceans.
  • Very slow growing and late maturing. Reaches maturity at around 9 feet (16 - 23 years)
  • Lives up to 45 years
  • Gives birth to live young that are nourished by a placental yolk sac until they are fully developed (viviparous); litters average about 3 - 14 pups
  • Gestation period: 22 - 24 months
CONSERVATION & STOCK STATUS
Federal & State Federal Listing IUCN Overfishing Overfished
Prohibited Species Species of Concern Vulnerable Yes Yes

PUBLIC SAFETY:

  • Larger individuals are potentially dangerous.
  • Interactions with humans are more likely to occur due to this species use of coastal habitat.
  • The International Shark Attack File lists 2 unprovoked shark bite incidents worldwide for this species, 1 of which were fatal (ISAF, 2018).

Sand Tiger Shark

(Carcharias taurus)

Sandtiger shark swimming with other fish
Sand tiger shark

SIZE: up to 10.5 feet

HABITAT: Coastal and offshore. Uses Long Island estuaries such as Great South Bay, which provide nursery habitat for juveniles during summer months.

BIOLOGY:

  • Prey: bony and cartilaginous fishes, cephalopods, crustaceans.
  • Reaches maturity at around 6.5 feet (6 - 10 years)
  • Lives 15 or more years
  • Gives live birth (ovoviviparous) to 1 - 2 pups. During gestation, the most developed embryo in each uterus will eat the less developed embryos (adelphophagy).
  • Gestation period: 9 - 12 months
CONSERVATION & STOCK STATUS
Federal & State Federal Listing IUCN Overfishing
Prohibited Species Species of Concern Vulnerable No

PUBLIC SAFETY:

  • A relatively docile shark species.
  • Interactions with humans are more likely to occur due to this species use of coastal habitat.
  • In 2018, there were 2 non-fatal unprovoked shark bites in the surf off Fire Island, NY. Officials believe that two separate sharks were involved in these incidents. Biologists were able to use DNA from a tooth fragment removed from one of the victims to determine that at least one of the sharks was a sand tiger. At the time, there was a large abundance of prey (Atlantic menhaden) and poor water clarity in the surf. It is believed that these conditions influenced these events and that these bites were not intentional.
  • The International Shark Attack File lists 29 unprovoked shark bite incidents worldwide for this species, none were fatal (ISAF, 2018).

Sandbar Shark

Sandbar shark swimming near ocean surface
Sandbar shark

(Carcharhinus plumbeus)

OTHER NAMES: Brown shark

SIZE: up to 8 feet

HABITAT: Coastal and offshore

BIOLOGY:

  • Prey: small bottom fish and crustaceans such as flounders, goosefish, skates, rays, dogfish, and blue crabs.
  • Reaches maturity at around 5 feet (15 - 18 years)
  • Lives 20 - 30 years
  • Gives birth to live young that are nourished by a placental yolk sac until they are fully developed (viviparous); litters average about 8 pups
  • Gestation period: 12 months
CONSERVATION & STOCK STATUS
Federal & State IUCN Overfishing Overfished
Prohibited Species Vulnerable No Yes

PUBLIC SAFETY:

  • Due to its preference for smaller prey, it poses little threat to humans.
  • Interactions with humans are more likely to occur due to this species use of coastal habitat.
  • The International Shark Attack File lists 5 unprovoked shark bite incidents worldwide for this species, none were fatal (ISAF, 2018).

Shortfin Mako Shark

(Isurus oxyrinchus)

Shortfin mako shark swimming in open ocean
Shortfin mako shark

SIZE: up to 13 feet

HABITAT: Mostly offshore

BIOLOGY:

  • Fastest shark in the world with burst swimming speeds of up to 43 mph.
  • Prey: feeds on fast moving pelagic fishes such as tuna, swordfish, billfish, other sharks, bluefish, and squid.
  • Reaches maturity at around 6.5 - 9.5 feet (8 - 18 years)
  • Lives about 20 years
  • Gives live birth (ovoviviparous) to 5 - 10 pups
  • Gestation period: 15 - 18 months
CONSERVATION & STOCK STATUS
IUCN Overfishing Overfished
Endangered Yes Yes

PUBLIC SAFETY:

  • Potentially dangerous due to their power, speed, and aggressiveness.
  • Anglers should always use caution when handling sharks.
  • The International Shark Attack File lists 10 unprovoked shark bite incidents worldwide for this species, 1 of which were fatal (ISAF, 2018).

Smooth Hammerhead Shark

Smooth hammerhead shark swimming in open ocean
Smooth hammerhead shark

(Sphyrna zygaena)

SIZE: up to 16 feet

HABITAT: Coastal and offshore.

BIOLOGY:

  • One of four hammerhead species.
  • Prey: bony and cartilaginous fishes, cephalopods, crustaceans.
  • Reaches maturity at around 7 - 9 feet
  • Lives 20 or more years
  • Gives birth to live young that are nourished by a placental yolk sac until they are fully developed (viviparous); litters average about 20 - 40 pups
  • Gestation period: 10 - 11 months
CONSERVATION & STOCK STATUS
IUCN CITES Overfishing Overfished
Vulnerable Appendix II Unknown Unknown

PUBLIC SAFETY:

  • Hammerhead species are considered potentially dangerous.
  • Interactions with humans are more likely to occur due to this species use of coastal habitat.
  • The International Shark Attack File lists 17 unprovoked shark bite incidents worldwide for this species, none were fatal (ISAF, 2018).

White Shark

White shark swimming in open ocean
White shark

(Carcharodon carcharias)

SIZE: up to 18+ feet

HABITAT: Coastal and offshore. Juveniles utilize Long Island's coastal ocean as nursery habitat throughout the warm season.

BIOLOGY:

  • Strong swimmers and ambush predators.
  • Prey: juveniles eat bony and cartilaginous fishes; adults (≥ 10') feed on seals, other sharks and rays, and are also known to gorge on dead whales.
  • Reaches maturity at around 10 - 16 feet (26 - 33 years)
  • Lives up to 70 years
  • Gives live birth (ovoviviparous) to small litters of pups.
  • Gestation period: 12 - 18 months
CONSERVATION & STOCK STATUS
Federal & State IUCN CITES
Prohibited Species Vulnerable Appendix II

PUBLIC SAFETY:

  • Adults can be dangerous to humans due to their size, power, and feeding behavior.
  • Interactions with humans are more likely to occur due to this species use of coastal habitat.
  • The International Shark Attack File lists 314 unprovoked shark bite incidents worldwide for this species, 80 of which were fatal (ISAF, 2018).

Smooth Dogfish

Smooth dogfish shark swimming on ocean bottom
Smooth dogfish shark, Photo by: Chris Paparo, FishGuyPhotos

(Mustelus canis)

OTHER NAMES: Sand shark

SIZE: up to 5 feet

HABITAT: Coastal

BIOLOGY:

  • Has rows of flat grinding teeth.
  • Prey: crustaceans, small fish, and mollusks.
  • Reaches maturity at around 2.25 - 4.25 feet (2 - 5 years)
  • Lives about 10 - 16 years
  • Gives birth to live young that are nourished by a placental yolk sac until they are fully developed (viviparous); litters average about 4 - 20 pups
  • Gestation period: 10 - 11 months
STOCK STATUS
Overfishing Overfished
No No

PUBLIC SAFETY:

  • Poses no threat to humans.
  • There are no shark bite incidents reported for this species (ISAF, 2018).

Spiny Dogfish

Spiny dogfish shark on measuring board
Spiny dogfish shark

(Squalus acanthias)

SIZE: up to 4 feet

HABITAT: Coastal

BIOLOGY:

  • Swims in large schools.
  • Prey: small fishes such as herring, menhaden, sand lance, and mackerel, as well as squids and crustaceans.
  • Reaches maturity at around 2.25 - 4.25 feet (6 - 12 years)
  • Lives about 25 - 30 years
  • Gives live birth (ovoviviparous) to 6 - 7 pups.
  • Gestation period: 2 years
CONSERVATION & STOCK STATUS
IUCN Overfishing Overfished
Vulnerable No No

PUBLIC SAFETY:

  • Poses little threat to humans.
  • Sharp spines located in front of the dorsal fins can cause injury if handled improperly.
  • There are no shark bite incidents reported for this species (ISAF, 2018).

For information on biology, conservation status, and public safety visit the links below (all links below leave DEC website):