Potomac Bull Shark causing fear in the water
This is one of two Bull Sharks recently caught in the Potomac.
Discovery Channel’s annual Shark Week has come and gone, but for local residents on the Potomac River, Jaws might still be lurking.
On Aug. 22, two bull sharks were caught in St. Mary’s County, Md. where the Potomac River meets the Chesapeake Bay.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), bull sharks are one of the top three sharks implicated in unprovoked fatal attacks throughout the world. Bull sharks pose an unusual threat to humans because of their ability to survive in both salt and fresh waters.
Lee Walker is the head of agency outreach for The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF). He says bull sharks are “resilient,” and that sightings in the area are fairly common.
“Most of the time these fish swim up the tidal systems unseen. It isn’t until somebody like an angler turns around and catches one of these fish that people know they are in the river system,” Walker said.
Walker said the DGIF hasn’t “had any reports of attacks on individuals within our river systems here, whether it be the Potomac, the James, (or) the Rappahannock,” but encourages individuals to be vigilant.
“With a species like a shark, where there is potential hazard with swimming with them. We always recommend people avoid swimming in the late hours and early hours… especially at night until the sun comes up,” he said.
Walker also cautioned against splashing and other movements that “mimic fish,” and emphasized that, “if there is a confirmed shark sighting in a swimming area the best recommendation is [not to] get in the water until it has been cleared.”
Rich Goszka, a conservation police sergeant with the DGIF, said in a recent interview that the risk of shark attacks in the Northern Neck region is, “very minimal.”
“This is just like anything in the world, there is always a risk or a hazard whenever you do anything… the odds of an attack are very, very slim,” Goszka said.
With that in mind, Goszka has several recommendations for swimmers entering the water.
“Be aware of your surroundings when you’re swimming. Always have someone with you watching out, and…don’t go to areas that are beyond your (swimming) capability or could put you at risk out there,” he said.
If swimmers do encounter a shark, Goszka asks that they “notify local law enforcement,” and exit the water.
Bull sharks are not the only species common to the area. According to the Chesapeake Bay Program, there are at least 12 species of shark found in the Bay, areas rivers and their tributaries. Besides bull sharks, the most common visitors to the Bay include sandbar sharks, sand tiger sharks and smooth dogfish sharks; most of these are not considered a threat to human swimmers.
The Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) stresses that shark attacks, especially in this area, are extremely rare. According to their website, a person is three times more likely to be hit by lightning than to be bitten by a shark.
With the odds in swimmers’ favor, common sense is favored over panic.
“If you do feel something bump you in the water, by all means get out!” Goszka said, with a laugh.