Blue York

Meet Your Neighbors: Sharks of New York

Like the city itself, the waters off New York City are incredibly diverse. Among sharks, there are roughly 25 species that frequent the area. Who are these mystery residents? How do they stack up against the New York we know so well?

NYC Sharks Compared to NYC Icons
(approximate max. length)

  • Sand Tiger Shark
    10.5 ft
    Derek Jeter
    6 ft 3 in
  • Blue Shark
    12.5 ft
    Sidewalk Newsstand
    8–12 ft wide
  • Shortfin Mako
    12 ft
    NYC Subway Car
    10 ft wide
  • Smooth Dogfish
    5 ft
    Hot Dog Cart
    4 ft
  • Spiny Dogfish
    4 ft
    Citi Bike
    5 ft
  • Common Thresher
    20 ft
    NYC’S Taxi of Tomorrow
    14.5 feet long

Look Out Below: Tracking Sharks

While we know sharks are here (and we’ve got video like this to prove it), we’re still learning about their behavior. To do this, WCS scientists are relying in part on electronic tags, which they’ve outfitted on a number of sharks off our coast. Each tag transmits information about the shark’s movements back to the researchers, offering new insights into these open questions. With that information, researchers may be able to better inform conservation plans and secure a brighter future for these magnificent animals.

Sharks and NYC we go way back

Sharks have been in New York since long before the first show hit Broadway or the lights went on in Times Square. As important predators, they are stars of the local sea, key to keeping the ecosystem in balance. But over the past few centuries, with the growth of the city, they’ve had plenty to tangle with, including a wealth of commercial and recreational fishing and a vicious reputation.

Timeline

  • 450 million years ago

    Sharks inhabit the Earth’s oceans.

  • 1500-2000 years ago

    An eastern group of the Algonkian, including the Lenape, settle in the area that would become New York City.

  • 1609

    Henry Hudson arrives on the island to be Manhattan.

  • 1882

    How’s this for a rep? A local newspaper describes sharks as “man-eaters” and “monsters of the deep” waiting patiently off the coast to devour swimmers.

  • 1896

    The New York Aquarium is established in present-day Battery Park (it moves to Coney Island in 1957).

  • 1904

    Sharks are fished and served locally. One Asian restaurant on Pell Street, for instance, offers shark fins (for a hefty $2.00), if ordered in advance.

  • 1933

    In July, a shark is reported in the Hudson River off 42nd Street. Police as far north as Poughkeepsie are warned.

  • 1950

    A shark makes its way into Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal (probably not the first or last to do so). Police shoot it as hundreds of bystanders look on.

  • 1974

    Duuuuh-duh … The book, Jaws, is published, with a story that takes place on Long Island. The movie comes out the next year.

  • 1989

    Seinfeld debuts on TV. “I’m the shark and he’s the fish eating my laughs,” Jerry says of a fellow comic in one later episode.

  • 2000

    Spiny dogfish are fished heavily off the coast of New York. Nearly two million lbs. are brought ashore in one year alone.

  • 2012

    WCS starts tracking the movements of sharks in coastal and ocean waters off New York.

  • 2013

    New York State bans the possession and sale of shark fins, with the exception of smooth and spiny dogfish (the most important sharks in New York’s commercial fisheries).

Senseless slaughter in the name of soup

Sharks are among the most vulnerable animals on the planet. As the main ingredient in a popular soup, shark fins are highly coveted in Asia. It’s estimated that as many as 70 million of them are killed each year for the dish.

While some countries have taken steps to regulate shark catch, better management is needed worldwide to ensure the overall haul is sustainable. Otherwise, these ancient mariners could be in serious trouble.

The curious case of the Smooth Dogfish

The U.S. and many other countries have banned the practice of finning (detaching the fins from the shark's body and throwing the body overboard). Off our coast, fishermen can still bring in detached smooth dogfish fins, though, thanks to wiggle room in the U.S. Shark Conservation Act. This allows them to kill more of this small coastal shark than they otherwise would and makes it hard to know if the fins come from species of concern.

Long Forgotten: Skates & Rays

Skates and rays are closely related to sharks, only with flattened bodies. Today, some are being fished at disturbing rates around here, too—far more heavily than sharks, in fact.

Sign Up: Get a Free Shark Sticker

Do you care about our local sharks? Become a Blue Yorker and help us raise awareness. We’ll send a free shark sticker so you can flaunt your new status.