Sharks of the Chesapeake Bay

In celebration of Shark Week, learn about the sharks that call the Chesapeake Bay home!

  • Animals

Shark Week would not be complete without discussing the local sharks that can be found in the nation's largest estuary, the Chesapeake Bay. Sharks are valuable members of the Chesapeake Bay food chain, and historically, 12 species have been known to inhabit the Bay's waters.

Full Body View of Sandbar Shark

Sandbar Shark

Sandbar sharks are the most common shark species in the Chesapeake Bay! They get their name from the sandy bays and estuaries where they are commonly found. Female sandbar sharks give birth to anywhere from one to 14 pups per litter every two to three years, and the Chesapeake Bay is one of the most important nursery areas for young sandbar sharks in the western north Atlantic. This shallow water species preys primarily on bony fishes and crustaceans.

Side Profile View of a Sand Tiger Shark

Sand Tiger Shark

Like sandbar sharks, sand tiger sharks typically visit the Chesapeake Bay during the summer and fall months, dwelling near the floor of the Bay and feeding primarily on bony fishes. The population of this species is vulnerable, due in part to their low reproductive rates, with females giving birth to a maximum of one or two pups every two years. They are typically larger than sandbar sharks, growing to be up to 10.5 feet long and 350 pounds!

Bull Shark

Another species of shark that can be found seasonally, but sporadically, in the Chesapeake Bay is the bull shark. Bull sharks get their name from their stocky build and bullish behavior. They are known to feed on rays, bony fishes and other species of sharks. This species can live in a wide range of salinities, including fresh water.

All three shark species found in the Bay can be identified by distinct physical characteristics—sandbar sharks are identifiable by their first dorsal fin, which is significantly larger than their second dorsal fin. Sand tiger sharks stand out because they swim with their mouths agape, showing their long, slender teeth and pointy snout, and bull sharks can be identified by their short, rounded snout, small eyes and robust appearance.

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