Warm Summer Waters Induce Shark Migration to East Coast Beaches

By Kevin Byrne, AccuWeather.com Staff Writer
June 29, 2014; 1:09 AM ET
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Ocean water temperatures can play a significant role in how and where certain species of sharks can migrate.

Whether it's to hunt prey or give birth, sharks typically adjust their migratory or behavioral patterns according to water temperatures.

"Species of shark tend to stay in their temperature range," said Nikki Grandinetti, the curator of fish and invertebrates at Adventure Aquarium in Camden, New Jersey.

For example, this time of year sandbar and sand tiger sharks will be off the coast having their pups. When it gets colder they will move south, according to Grandinetti.

Alan Henningson, a shark expert at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, echoed Grandinetti's sentiments about how certain species' movements are dictated by water temperature, especially with sandbar sharks. He added that there are examples where the sexes migrate differently, and their movement patterns can differ based upon age and size.

"Pregnant females may move to warmer waters, whereas non-pregnant females and males may stay in warmer areas," he said. "In warm temperate to subtropical waters, the water temperature varies by season."

Adult sandbar sharks can move up to as far as New England in the summer, and when the water cools, the adults will move south, traveling as far as the Gulf of Mexico and Yucatan Peninsula he added.

Due to recent protections given to great whites, the species has seen a surge in population. As these sharks are known to follow and stalk their prey, they can be found in multiple locations across the oceans.

"In the winter, they'll be down more towards Florida and in the summertime they'll be up farther in the East Coast up to Cape Cod," Grandinetti said. "They tend to stay more in that 70-degree temperature range."

However, the sharks' location is dependent upon where their food supply is.

With high seal populations, Cape Cod is a popular place for great whites to hunt.

(Photo/Adventure Aquarium)

Although great whites can be found in numerous places, some sharks can typically only be found in warmer or colder waters.

The Greenland shark is a cold-water shark and that can be found in the Polar regions, where temperatures range from below freezing to approximately 54 F, according to the National Wildlife Federation.

However, other species, such as bottom-dwelling nurse sharks, can usually only be found in the warmer waters of the Atlantic or the Caribbean.

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Like bottom-dwelling nurse sharks, hammerhead sharks are also prone to stay in warmer waters.

There are some cases of sharks moving closer to the coastline during the summer, but only for select species.

"Blacktip and spinner sharks, for example will follow schools of baitfish in closer to [shore] off of Florida," Henningson said. "This is a case of the sharks following the baitfish, and the baitfish are following temperature."

While the surface temperature of the ocean tends to stay the same, waters get colder as the ocean gets deeper, with the exception of the Gulf stream, a warm water current just off the Atlantic Coast.

In the wintertime a lot of juvenile sharks go into the jet stream for its warmer waters but then they get stuck, Grandinetti said.

Research is still ongoing, particularly research on the migratory patterns of great whites. Researchers are currently tracking these patterns by tagging great whites so that they can observe how many thousands of miles they tend to migrate.

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