Spine of Great White Shark Discovered on Massachusetts Beach After Storm

The spine of what is thought to be a great white shark has been discovered on a beach in Massachusetts after a storm hit the area.

It was found by guards from Wellfleet Lifeguards as they did their morning sweep of Newcomb Hollow. The organization released images of the spine in a Facebook post Sunday.

"Yesterday, our guards made an amazing find during their morning beach sweep: a full spine of a marine animal," they wrote. "Upon further investigation (aka googling) and consultation with a few friends of ours (aka marine scientists) who know a thing or two about sharks, it's likely this is the spinal column of a White Shark, and a pretty large one at that."

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Posted by Wellfleet Lifeguards on Friday, September 25, 2020

Massachusetts was hit by Hurricane Teddy on September 22, bringing coastal flooding, large waves and strong winds to parts of the state. The storm passed about 300 miles east of Cape Cod, where the town of Wellfleet sits, and led to power outages from downed trees, as well as brush fires and rough surf.

The guards believe the spine had been buried under the sand for "quite some time" and was only exposed after a storm moved sand to expose it. "We're sorry this guy had to perish, but happy that he (or she) left a little something behind as a message from the past about his (or her) visit to the [Wellfleet Beaches]," the organization wrote.

Wellfleet Lifeguards told Newsweek the spine was round five feet long, with the largest vertebra around 3.5 inches in diameter. They are currently working with local scientists who are taking samples from it for research purposes.

Great white sharks are known to gather around Cape Cod. Data from OCEARCH, which tracks the movements of marine animals—including great whites—using satellite technology, currently shows there are dozens around the waters off Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York right now.

Finding an almost entirely preserved shark spine is unusual because shark skeletons are made from cartilage rather than bone. Cartilage is softer than bone and does not preserve well. As a result, fossil evidence of sharks is lacking, and much research is based around their teeth, which lasts much longer.

While more rare, shark vertebrae can survive over long periods. In 2015, for example, researchers uncovered three vertebrae in Texas belonging to a shark that lived 125 million years ago. Based on these fossils, researchers estimated the unidentified species to have been around 20 feet long. The fossils had been preserved in limestone.

The Wellfleet shark's spine may have been preserved because of the arid conditions on the beach, although further details are not known.

This article has been updated to include comments from Wellfleet Lifeguards.

shark spine
Photos taken by Wellfleet Lifeguards show the shark spine that was uncovered by the storm. Wellfleet Lifeguards