Headless Dolphin Carcass Prompts Great White Shark Fears

A headless, decaying dolphin has been found on a beach just weeks after a great white shark was spotted in the waters nearby.

The carcass was found on a beach near Brighton, on the U.K.'s south coast, after a shark sighting off Worthing, about five miles west, on February 4. The discovery prompted residents to speculate that a shark might have killed the dolphin.

Georgia Tournay-Godfrey, who found the dolphin, told the Brighton Argus newspaper: "My brother and I have been obsessing over the shark spotted in Worthing recently, so my first thought was that the great white had it for breakfast. Its head was missing. It was pretty gruesome."

Great white sharks are not generally found in U.K. waters. However, an abundance of seals, which are favored prey of great whites, has been linked to their possible presence in the region.

A photograph of what appeared to be a shark's fin off the coast of Worthing was taken by James Venn in February. The shark was spotted around 60 yards from the beach. Venn said he initially thought it might have been a seal, but when he examined his photos he realized it was a shark fin.

Shark and fishing expert Graeme Pullen told the Argus the shape of the shark's fin and water temperature suggested it was a small great white shark that had come to the U.K. to hunt seals.

Ocearch, which studies great white shark behavior via satellite tagging, has been monitoring the species in the northwest Atlantic for the last decade. Scientists with the organization are planning an expedition to the U.K. in September to survey great white sharks off Scotland, Ireland and Cornwall.

Dolphins are spotted frequently around the U.K. Thea Taylor, project lead with the Sussex Dolphin Project, said that the carcass on Hove beach was a common male dolphin. She did not rule out death by an injury, but said the body had clearly been on the beach for a while.

"They are usually a summer visitor to the Sussex stretch of the Eastern English Channel and not generally recorded here at this time of year," she said in a statement. "This individual has been dead for some time and has an unusual injury to the head, but it is difficult to tell if this injury is directly linked to death or occurred post-mortem due to the state of decomposition."

The Sussex Dolphin Project encouraged visitors to the beach to avoid touching the dolphin as it presented a potential health risk.

Stock image of a great white shark
Stock image of a great white shark. The animals can grow over 20 feet long and are found in the coastal waters of most oceans around the world. Alessandro De Maddalena