Sand Tiger Shark Nursery Found Outside New York City

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A nursery for sand tiger sharks (Carcharias taurus) has been found in Great South Bay, just outside of New York City. Andrea Comas/REUTERS

Scientists have identified an important nursery ground just outside of New York City where young sand tiger sharks shelter and feed as they grow bigger. Scientists know of only a few such nurseries for the fish, which boast an impressive mouthful of dagger-like teeth but aren't aggressive.

The spot was found after researchers put tracking devices on 15 young sharks, 10 of which returned to a certain section of Great South Bay, a lagoon along the southern coast of Long Island.

The first indication that the area might be a nursery, a sheltered location where sharks migrate to avoid predators and feed while they grow larger, came in 2011 when scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society's New York Aquarium in Coney Island received photos of a deceased young sand tiger shark at one of the region's marinas, the aquarium noted in a release. Interviews with locals revealed that anglers had been catching these young sharks in the Great South Bay for years, though it's illegal to fish for these fish under state and federal laws.

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The mouth of a sand tiger shark, which may look fearsome but isn't aggressive toward humans. Jlencion via wikimedia commons

Sand tiger sharks (Carcharias taurus) are found along coastlines around the world, but their populations aren't large, and they are considered vulnerable (one notch above "endangered") by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, an environmental group. They are slow-growing and reproduce slowly, meaning it takes them a long time to rebuild depleted populations.

Tracking of juvenile sharks by the researchers has revealed that the fish are born off the Southeastern U.S. and then migrate north to the Great South Bay during summer, before returning south again during the winter.