JONESPORT, Maine — Lobster fishermen have reported seeing sharks in the waters off Jonesport, but a shark expert suggested they pose little threat to people.
Robert Alley Jr., 41, of Addison identified a pair of sharks he saw as porbeagles. Blake Smith, 19, of Cherryfield, who works on Alley’s boat, Angel’s Baby, recorded some video footage and photographs of the sharks on Tuesday of last week.
The sharks actually were spotted by Alley’s 17-year-old son, Travis, also a lobster fisherman, aboard his boat, Daddy’s Dummy. He contacted his father via radio, and Alley and Smith motored to the location. The fisherman were in an area known as the Thoroughfare, which is between Roque Island and Great Spruce Island,
“He kept him there,” said Alley, by tying a piece of codfish to a plastic bottle that acted as a float, which was tethered to his son’s boat with a line. The shark stayed near the boat, attracted by the cod, although it attempted to snatch the fish and carry it off, according to Alley.
There were two sharks. One was about 7 feet long and one 9 feet long, Alley estimated.
“They come up close,” said Alley, who described the incident after he was done hauling traps late Friday morning and had stopped at a Jonesport store to get something to eat. “They got plenty of teeth.”
Smith took pictures and video with his cell phone.
Gayle Kraus, a professor of marine ecology at the University of Maine at Machias, viewed the video on Friday and said the shark “almost certainly” was a porbeagle, which is also called a mackerel shark and can resemble a great white shark. People on whale watching excursions out of Eastport see porbeagle sharks chasing mackerel this time of year, said Kraus.
“They’re not likely to attack a person,” Lisa Natanson, a fisheries biologist and shark expert with the National Marine Fisheries Service in Narragansett, R.I., said Monday.
“I wouldn’t tell people they’re harmless,” she said. The species can come close to shore but are not known to stay near public beaches, Natanson added.
A cold water shark, porbeagles typically are found in Canadian waters and the northern U.S., although she noted they also have been found as far south as New Jersey.
“They’re not uncommon in Maine,” Natanson said. “They’re all over the place.”
It is not unusual to see porbeagle sharks in the area, said Alley. They have been more common in the past five or six years since the water temperature has warmed, he said. In fact, an 8-foot 6-inch porbeagle shark was snagged in one of his lines last year, he noted. A Maine Department of Marine Resources biologist identified it as a porbeagle shark.
Natanson found it unusual that, according to Alley’s observation, the sharks have been found closer to the coast in recent years as the water temperature has increased because porbeagles are cold water sharks. But she agreed they could be following a food source, such as herring.
Ernest Kelley Jr., a Jonesport lobster fisherman, said he saw a shark next to his boat on Wednesday of last week. At the time he was directly off Jonesport’s Sandy River Beach “a couple of miles,” he said Friday, which would have put him between the beach and Roque Island.
“It was right up side the boat. A mako [shark] or something like that,” said Kelley.
He has seen the shark in the same area during summer in the last three or four years, said Kelley. He speculated it has been drawn to the area because small herring are back.
“That may be the answer,” said Kraus. “We are seeing more warm water fish,” she added, in the Gulf of Maine. For example, fishermen report catching trigger fish, which are typically found off the coast of Virginia.
Although mako sharks are found in the Gulf of Maine, Kraus suggested that the shark Kelley sighted also was a porbeagle. The two species resemble one another, but the mako is a warm water shark, according to Kraus.