Numerous reports of a smooth hammerhead shark sent beachgoers on Martha’s Vineyard scrambling from the water yesterday, forcing the brief closure of a popular beach after the animal was spotted from the air.
The unusual incident took place at South Beach, according to the Boston Globe, starting around 10:30 in the morning. After several people reported seeing a hammerhead shark just five feet from shore, lifeguards investigated and witnessed the animal as well, before requesting a spotter plane and calling swimmers from the water. After the aircraft confirmed the shark’s presence, beachgoers were kept out of the ocean for roughly an hour and a half, according to Jessica McGroarty, Edgartown’s parks administrator. Once the biplane observed the shark moving out to sea, the beaches were reopened to the public.
— The Boston Globe (@BostonGlobe) August 4, 2016
Later in the day, around 2 p.m., a second sighting of the shark was reported, and swimmers were again called from the water. That closure lasted roughly a half hour before beachgoers were allowed back into the ocean.
The spotter plane’s pilot estimated that the shark was just under 10 feet long, as the Cape Cod Times reports. While the witnesses stated that the shark in question was a hammerhead, state marine fisheries biologist John Chisholm expressed his own skepticism. He noted that hammerheads aren’t normally known to approach shorelines so closely, and suggested instead that the witnesses could have seen a sandbar shark, a species more commonly associated with the area.
“I’d be really reluctant to say it’s a hammerhead until I see a photo. It’s not unheard of, over the years, for hammerhead sharks to be seen. They’re very common offshore… but to have one inshore would be rare.”
— Vineyard Gazette (@vineyardgazette) August 3, 2016
Sandbar sharks generally grow to be roughly five or six feet in length. Chisholm also noted that the water could have potentially distorted the shark’s image, leading beachgoers to believe it was a hammerhead when in fact it was another species.
Sandbar and hammerheads aren’t the only sharks to call the region home, of course. The Atlantic White Shark Conservancy is currently in the midst of the third year of a population study targeting the itinerant population of great white sharks which gather around Cape Cod each summer. Drawn to the area by a booming seal colony on Monomoy Island, the white sharks have given researchers their first predictable access to the species in the Northern Atlantic. Working with both Chisholm and his fellow marine fisheries biologist, Dr. Greg Skomal, the conservancy was able to identify over 140 individual white sharks in the region last year.
— Atlantic White Shark (@A_WhiteShark) August 3, 2016
While it is rare for hammerhead sharks to approach populated beaches, it is not entirely unheard of, as the Inquisitr has previously reported. Last year, one of the sharks was spotted just off a beach in Ocean City, prompting officials to repeatedly close several stretches of shoreline. The animal’s unusual behavior led local officials to assert that it could be injured in some way, yet the hammerhead eventually swam back out to sea under its own power, but not before causing a small sensation on social media.
— Atlantic White Shark (@A_WhiteShark) July 26, 2016
The closure in Martha’s Vineyard represents the first time this year that beachgoers in the area have been called from the water due to a shark sighting. Although Chisholm noted that photographs would be essential to document any sighting of a hammerhead shark, McGroarty noted that officials are unaware of any such images.