Guest Commentary: During Shark Week, test your knowledge of those in Chesapeake


Kathleen Gaskell is a copy editor at the Bay Journal, where this was first published as the Chesapeake Challenge.

At least 12 shark species have been observed in the Chesapeake Bay. Can you match the five most common species with their descriptions? Answers are at the bottom.

  • Sand tiger shark.
  • Spiny dogfish.
  • Sandbar shark.
  • Smooth dogfish.
  • Bull shark.
  1. Look for the Chesapeake Bay’s most common shark species in summer and fall, when the estuary is one of its most important nursery areas on the East Coast. This 6- to 8-foot shark prefers areas with a smooth bottom, where its prey — fish, smaller sharks, rays and blue crabs — are found.
  2. This shark makes summer visits to the bay. It has a gland that lets it swim in both salt and freshwater and has been found in Maryland’s Patuxent River. One of the three most dangerous shark species, it has yet to pose a major threat in the bay. It can grow up to 11.5 feet long and 500 pounds by eating fish, rays, smaller sharks, crustaceans, turtles and even aquatic mammals.
  3. This 10-foot shark swims in the Lower Chesapeake Bay in summer and fall. A female has hundreds of fertilized eggs and several fetal sharks in each of her two uteri. By the time she gives birth, though, only one pup is left in each uterus; it has eaten the other eggs and its siblings. This nocturnal bottom feeder eats mostly fish and squid.
  4. This 3-foot summer and fall visitor is common in the Lower Chesapeake, in waters less than 60 feet deep. It travels in packs along the bottom, eating crustaceans, mollusks, squid and small fish. It is generally shy and avoids humans.
  5. This 4-foot, large-eyed, slow-swimming shark is usually found in the deeper waters of the Lower Bay, south of the Potomac River, in late fall through early spring. Behind its dorsal fins are spines that shoot venom at would-be predators. It often travels in packs with hundreds of its kind, preying on herring, shrimp, crab, squid and octopus.

Make an unlikely shark attack even less likely

The odds of a shark attack in the U.S. have been reported as 1 in 5 million. Average global deaths from shark attacks: less than 10. Annual average worldwide deaths from being hit by a champagne cork: 24.

Number of unprovoked shark attacks in the Chesapeake Bay: 0.

Still, here’s some advice.

Safety in numbers: Sharks are more likely to bite an isolated individual. Swim amid other people. The other advantage is that if an attack occurs, people will be nearby to help.

Avoid their dinner hours and hangouts: Sharks are not only more active at night, dawn and dusk, but they can see you better than you can see them at these hours. Stay away from sandbars and steep drop-offs.

Don’t act or look like food: Sharks have a heightened sense of smell and can track down the tiniest amount of blood. If you are cut, stay out of the water. Glittery or shiny jewelry looks like fish scales underwater. A shark’s sense of sight is especially attuned to contrast: If you are unevenly tanned or wearing a brightly colored swimsuit, you are more likely to look like prey, especially in murky water. Splashing is not a good idea because it can make you appear like prey in distress. This is especially true for pets in the water.

Don’t get chummy with their food: People who are fishing often use chum or baitfish, which attract sharks. See diving seabirds? Not good. It most likely indicates the presence of baitfish.

Don’t be myth-taken: It’s been said that sharks won’t be present if dolphins are swimming nearby. That is not true.

Cue the “Jaws” theme song: If you spot a shark, leave the water quickly and with as little splashing as possible. Warn others! The shark may only be curious and not likely to bite unless provoked. Even if it bites, this might be only a warning to back off. Comply. In the rare event that it is an actual attack, experts say to fight back (continually heading to shore, if possible). Punch the shark’s nose, gills or eyes, the parts where it is most sensitive.


  1. Sandbar shark
  2. Bull shark
  3. Sand tiger shark
  4. Smooth dogfish
  5. Spiny dogfish
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