Bull Shark Catch in Maryland Highlights Nearness of Species to Shore

They’re baaaaack! Not that they were ever gone; they’ve just kept a low profile. Two eight-foot, 220-pound bull sharks were caught in Maryland near Point Lookout, where the Chesapeake Bay and Potomac River meet. And, very close to where I’ve spent my summers growing up, sandy-footed and slightly sunburned, thinking that jellyfish were my biggest enemy in the water.

Three years ago, eight-foot bull sharks were found in the Potomac by Buzz’s Marina. This year, on August 20, fishermen John “Willie” Dean, his son Greg Dean, and Rich Riche were working pound nets to catch menhaden for crab bait. Three Maryland Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) biologists happened to join them that morning when an unusual catch was discovered in the shallow part of the net: an eight-foot bull shark.

Bull Shark Factpage

Marina owner Christy Henderson recalls the flurry of the activity.

“A DNR rep will periodically ride on board to collect fish samples to study,” said Henderson. “They discovered the first shark in their net, which was full of menhaden. There was a lot going on, and they felt that something else was in there but their little skiff could only hold so much.”

Shark Surprise

“Imagine three people in a small skiff, surrounded by menhaden, and add an eight-foot bull shark. They had to make a second trip back to the net to find out what else was in there.” – Christy Henderson of Buzz’s Marina

After the team unloaded their initial haul, they returned to the net to continue the survey. What they expected to be a ray snagged in the deeper part of the net turned out to be another surprise. It was on this return trip that a second bull shark was discovered, alive but in distress.

“Both sharks were in the net at the same time, they just didn’t know it,” Henderson explained.

Fisherman John “Willie” Dean described the moment that he discovered the second shark. “After finding the first shark, we went back to the net to continue the survey. That’s when we found the second shark in the deeper part of the net, in 18 feet of water.”

One of the sharks was donated to science, and the team was asked to open the shark’s stomach to examine its contents.

Versatile Predators

Bull sharks, one of the most aggressive and common species of shark, have a unique characteristic: they live primarily in saltwater, but can tolerate fresh water and have been known to venture deep into rivers. (See “Freshwater Sharks.”)

Fish biologist and Monster Fish host Zeb Hogan has experience with the world’s largest freshwater fish. “Several species of fish, including stingray, sawfish, and tarpon can also tolerate freshwater,” he said.

“For example, the giant freshwater stingray, Himantura chaophraya, has been found several hundred kilometers up the Mekong River in Cambodia,” says Hogan.

What drives these top predators into freshwater?

“Adult bull sharks are capable of entering freshwater and have been found up to 1,500 miles up the Mississippi and 2,000 miles up the Amazon,” says Hogan. However, it’s much more likely to find them in saltwater rather than freshwater. “In the areas where I’ve worked, young bull sharks seem to use freshwater areas as nurseries, i.e. places where they are relatively safe from predators and can feed and grow,” Hogan says.

No Reported Shark Attacks in the Chesapeake Bay

Hogan explains it’s important to note that shark attacks are rare; there have been no reports of shark attacks in the Chesapeake Bay despite the fact that at least 12 sharks occur there. Beachcombers on the Chesapeake Bay and Potomac River often tout their finds: varying hues of beach glass, shells, and shark teeth; a subtle reminder of what thrives in the brown-green water.

Perhaps jellyfish aren’t my biggest enemy in the water after all, just the most visible.


Read the 2010 NewsWatch story: Eight Foot Sharks Netted in Potomac River

The two bull sharks caught near Buzz’s marina

Man catches two bull sharks in Potomac

Maggie Hines is the program specialist for National Geographic's Pristine Seas project. She works with Explorer-in-Residence Dr. Enric Sala on all aspects of the Pristine Seas project, including planning and executing expeditions to the most remote places on the planet. A Virginia native, her summers were spent on the Chesapeake Bay at her grandmother’s house and on the shores of North Carolina. Maggie received a B.A. in Studio Art with a concentration in photography, and a B.B.A. in Management with a concentration in technology, innovation and entrepreneurship from James Madison University.
  • Hope

    National Geographic, it is very disheartening that you would post these photos of an innocent creature being manhandled and left to die for “fishing sport”. It is absolutely disgusting that people treat these creatures inhumanely, especially since they are quickly becoming endangered by our careless actions such as the one pictured here.

    • Maggie Hines

      Hope, thank you for your feedback and I certainly understand your concern. Bull sharks are not currently listed as an endangered species. These sharks were not caught on purpose for sport, but accidentally caught in a net and one was donated to science.

  • Dr. Kent Mountford

    Beg to differ on shark attacks in Chesapeake Bay. Eugenie Clark once told her University of Maryland Class, if we did not have a jellyfish problem in Chesapeake Bay we might have a shark problem. As an Ecologist and Environmental Historian, I’ve researched letters from the Jesuit Priests at St Inigoes on the Potomac, written to Rome in the 1640’s. One recounted a man going into the water for the purpose of swimming and a before he could get out of the water “great fish” tore away a portion of his thigh, from which…injury the wretch was quickly hurried from among the living” (quote approximate)

    That weren’t no bluefish bite there! I swim a lot in the Bay when the jellyfish are gone, and I think of this historical event every time i go in the water.

    I recounted this event in my column for Chesapeake Bay Journal in March 2007. ( http://www.bayjournal.com )

  • Kenneth Rasmussen

    Interesting Jesuit historical note! Just a quick clarification re. the article’s mention of shark tooth “finds” along the Chesapeake Bay. The only ones my students and I have found over the past 20 years have been quite clearly fossil (Miocene) in nature. Such finds say nothing about “what thrives in the brown-green water.” Today, at least.

  • Hope

    Maggie, when “Buzz’s Marina” found the shark, they should have put it back in the water, instead of leaving it to die on the ground while posing for photos next to it. While this particular shark may not be endangered, as a species they are slowly being reduced in number by those who cut off their fins, and catch them in nets such as the one above. Buzz’s Marina should be ashamed of itself. Additionally, National Geographic should not be condoning the catching of sharks & leaving them to die as pictured above.

  • Karen

    Hope, if you read the article, Buzz’s Marina did not catch the shark. It was caught by local waterman near the Marina, and brought in there.

  • Bill Batleman

    I have been fishing salt water for over 50 years. Catch and release of any sharks caught. The Bull Shark is an aggressive shark that will attack humans when the opportunity presents itself….Bull Sharks up these fresh water tributary’s is nothing new. Fresh water eliminates salt water parasites and is a source of food. I would be more concerned about a five foot Asian snakehead in these fresh waters. These sharks have been here in these waters in limited numbers as noted by the number of attacks or sightings….no big deal here unless you watch shark week.

  • Eland Thong

    Catching saltwater predators in rivers and lakes… it remains strange. I saw it first in the episode of River Monsters (check YouTube). Oh yeah, more about shark fishing on http://www.boatfishingguide.com

  • Scott Schultz

    Good lord – NEVER allow children to play with or stand near a dead shark! These things can still bite even when dead for many hours. Please educate yourselves better about these creatures.

    Thanks for sharing the pictures, this was a very interesting catch, indeed.

  • Kris Kirwin

    Maryland’s 1st Shark Attack

    Worcester County ─ Officers responded to the report of a shark bite on July 6, 2014 in Chincoteague Bay off George Island Landing in Stockton.

    Kevin Patrick Musgrave, 57, said he and another clammer anchored their vessel off Mills Island about 9 a.m. When he entered the water, Musgrave said something struck his left leg. He got back in the boat and determined the wound was consistent with a shark bite.

    Officers concurred and advised Musgrave to seek immediate medical attention.

  • Michael

    Bull shark have been around for many years with not lives taken. Pay attention to your surroundings.

    The bigger threat is our Waterman’s livelihood from ACIDIFICATION in our bay and coast lines.

    This could cost thousands of Delmarva jobs, as the tourist who visit Delmarva enjoy our seafood.

    The economy of our area is in jeopardy and we need to start efforts in saving our Delmarva before its too late.

  • jamie lorber

    I ain’t skeered a no dang shark. They stupid like people from dundalk

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