OCEAN CITY — It’s no secret sharks, sometimes big sharks, frequent the waters off the coast of Ocean City, but several sightings over a period of a couple days this week created a stir in the resort area.
Early Monday morning, an estimated 10-foot hammerhead was caught in the surf at 143rd Street and birthed 20 pups before perishing and ultimately washing up on the beach in neighboring Fenwick. Over the next couple of days, a shark or multiple sharks were spotted close to shore at different areas up and down the Ocean City coast.
While it should not be alarming to see sharks of all shapes and sizes in the ocean near the resort, after all it is their home and human vacationers are merely guests in their habitat, it was somewhat unusual this week because of the frequency of the sightings. Images of sharks and shark fins close to shore were captured from one end of the resort to the other, and while many of them appear to be the same large hammerhead, there is no telling for certain what species and how many are circling the waters.
Ocean City Communications Director Jessica Waters said on Thursday town officials, including the beach patrol, are aware of the sudden appearance of large predators off the resort coast and are taking the appropriate actions to monitor them.
“This is certainly not normal for Ocean City,” she said. “Thankfully, the Ocean City Beach Patrol has been very aware and has been monitoring the activity. As usual, they closely monitor any type of risk in the ocean, whether it is a rip current, a shore break or marine life. They’re always keeping their eyes on the water to keep our residents and visitors safe. For all of our beachgoers, we want to make sure they know to check with the lifeguard on duty to find out the current conditions of the water.”
In a statement released later on Thursday, the Town of Ocean City re-emphasized the importance of heeding any warnings issued by the beach patrol.
“We have had an unusual week in Ocean City with several sightings of marine life in the surf,” the statement reads. “Our Beach Patrol is continuously monitoring water conditions including forming rip currents, shore breaks and our friends with fins. Our lifeguards are trained to keep you safe during your stay, however, it is imperative that you listen to the whistle and follow any directions given by the lifeguards.”
Again, it is important to note sharks spotted swimming in the ocean close to shore is not necessarily alarming. In regards to the hammerhead that birthed 20 pups on the beach in north Ocean City early Monday, National Aquarium Fisheries Research Specialist Alan Henningsen said the time of year and the time of the shark’s cycle were appropriate for Monday’s incident.
“Hammerheads are actually very delicate and they have to continually swim to survive,” he said. “They only come up to this area in the summer time, so this would be the right time for her to be here and the right time for her to be giving birth.”
It is uncertain if the live hammerhead spotted at different locations through mid-week was also coming close to shore to birth pups, but Henningsen said it is certainly possible. Additionally, a witness reported the hammerhead came close to beaching itself Wednesday evening on 52nd Street.
“They do give birth close to shore,” he said. “They generally come in close to shore to give birth because it’s a safer habitat for the pups away from other sharks and other predators.”
The sudden spike in shark sightings close to the shore this week ironically comes at a time when the 40th anniversary of the movie “Jaws” is being celebrated. The iconic shark movie was released on June 20, 1975 and has been scaring generations out of the water for the last four decades. “Jaws” was re-released in about 500 theaters around the country this week to mark the anniversary.
The unusual shark activity in Ocean City this week also comes just days before the Discovery Channel’s annual Shark Week, which will include programs related to everything about sharks including shark attacks.