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Sharks Among Us: Chesapeake Bay Species

Shark Sightings in the Mid-Atlantic

Believe it or not, the Chesapeake Bay is home to many sharks—in fact, it’s one of the most important sandbar shark nursery areas on the East Coast. You’re not likely to spot them, though, since most are bottom-dwelling, hunting for fish and invertebrates far below the water’s surface.

The five most common Mid-Atlantic species are the sandbar shark, bull shark, sand tiger shark, smooth dogfish and spiny dogfish. (You can get a close-up look at the sandbar shark and sand tigers shark right here at the National Aquarium!) In addition to these frequent visitors, the Bay also hosts some less common shark species:

Basking Shark

Basking Shark

Basking sharks have occasionally been spotted feeding at the Bay’s surface in early spring. This enormous creature may look intimidating—an adult can reach 20 to 26 feet in length, and the jaw alone stretches more than 3 feet wide—but it’s harmless to humans and actually lives off a diet of plankton.

Bonnethead Shark

Bonnethead Shark

The bonnethead is sometimes reported in the lower Bay over the summer. This unusual-looking shark is often mistaken for a hammerhead, though the two are easily distinguishable: The bonnethead has a narrower, rounder noggin’ than that of its significantly larger cousin. You can spot one of these remarkable sharks in the National Aquarium’s Atlantic Coral Reef exhibit.

Scalloped Hammerhead

Scalloped Hammerhead

The day you spot a scalloped hammerhead in the Chesapeake Bay is the day you should buy a lottery ticket, but a handful of sightings have been reported. Learn more about the scalloped hammerhead, and what’s being done to save this threatened species, here.

Atlantic Sharpnose

Atlantic Sharpnose Shark

Reaching only about 3.6 feet long, the Atlantic sharpnose is smaller than what you might imagine when you think “shark.” (Fun fact: Despite the common misconception that most sharks resemble the enormous, teeth-baring variety out of “Jaws,” more than 50 percent of shark species are less than 3 feet in length.) The Atlantic sharpnose rarely to occasionally makes an appearance in the lower Chesapeake Bay, but it’s typically found in coastal habitats.

Dusky Shark

Dusky Shark

The dusky shark once enjoyed healthy populations in the Chesapeake, but those days are long gone. Today, this 12-foot-long fish is considered an infrequent summertime visitor to the lower Bay. It holds the record for most powerful bite among all 400 shark species.


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