Sharks have captured our collective imagination for decades, from JAWS to Shark-week to Sharknado. This past week, the Great White has once again been in the news, not from the shores of a fictional Long Island town but from the shores of our own Greenwich waters. OCEARCH, a data-centric science group that engages with over 150 scientists, has tagged over 400 animals, including sharks. One of these Great White Sharks swam into Long Island this week, leaving a flurry of interest in its wake.
Having a Great White Shark in Long Island Sound is unusual in 2019. The population of these magnificent creatures has been decimated in recent decades and the return of this Shark is a good indicator that our waters are improving. Sharks follow fish and so having a Great White Shark means that our waters are capable of supporting a healthy fish population.
There’s more: Great Whites are apex predators, meaning that they swim at the top of the marine food web. The absence of such predators creates a cascading series of effects that impact water quality, our economy and our dinner plates. With the loss of top predators like sharks, other species fill that niche. Sharks feast on rays, including the Cownose Ray which-as it turns out- like to eat bi-valves. The loss of one species leads to the increase in others and, down the line, an impact on yet a different species, in this case: scallops, clams and oysters.
As followers of SoundWaters know, scallops, clams and oysters are filter feeders that have a major impact on water quality, and as area foodies know well, Long Island Sound is a key fishery for these animals. Indeed some would argue that Long Island Sound oysters are the finest in the world.
When a big, interesting animal gets in the news (see: Polar Bears!) we humans tend to pay attention. And that’s a good thing, because these big animals can help us to see the whole ecosystem, to the food web and the cascading effects all creatures have on the wider world. So, this coming weekend, if you find yourself at a clam bake or an oyster bar, raise a toast to
the Great White Shark, and all the apex predators, whose looming presence helps to improve our local waters and fisheries.