Shark Nursery Grounds of the Gulf of Mexico and the East Coast Waters of the United States

Shark Nursery Areas in the Coastal Waters of Massachusetts

Gregory B. Skomal


Abstract.—To identify and characterize shark nursery habitat in the coastal waters of Massachusetts, longline and shark angler surveys were conducted from 1989 to 2002 in the neritic waters of Nantucket Sound, Massachusetts. Additional samples and information were opportunistically collected from recreational and commercial fishermen, as well as published sources. A total of 123 longline sets of 5,591 hooks caught 372 sharks consisting of 344 (92.5%) smooth dogfish Mustelus canis, 23 (6.2%) sandbar sharks Carcharhinus plumbeus, and 5 (1.3%) dusky sharks C. obscurus. The sharks were taken during the period of 16 June–24 September in water temperature and depth ranges of 16.0–27.2°C and 1.2–27.1 m, respectively. Longline catch rates (number of sharks per longline set) were stratified by species, area, month, year, water temperature, and depth. Angler surveys reported the capture of 294 sharks, including sandbar sharks (72%) and smooth dogfish (28%). Data from 540 neonatal and adult smooth dogfish ranging 27.5–121.0 cm fork length (FL) support the conclusion that the neritic waters of southern Massachusetts serve as primary nursery habitat for this species. Size and sex data from 235 juvenile sandbar sharks ranging 61.0–157.0 cm FL indicate that this region provides secondary nursery habitat for this species. Opportunistic samples of juvenile sand tiger Carcharias taurus, white shark Carcharodon carcharias, basking shark Cetorhinus maximus, and tiger shark Galeocerdo cuvier provide evidence that these species utilize Massachusetts coastal waters for secondary nursery habitat.