Young sharks, some of whom are just a few months old, have been doing something that baffles scientists: they are making their way up the Atlantic coast to a nursery of sorts just off New York.
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What is now known as the "sand tiger shark nursery" is located right near the shore of Long Island's Great South Bay. There are is now supporting many juvenile animals, some of which are just 4 months old. The sharks are still large, though, coming in anywhere from tiny (9 inches) to larger (4 feet), according to the Wildlife Conservation Society's New York Aquarium.
"It's quite interesting, because this is sort of a resident population," said vice president and director of the aquarium, Jon Dohlin to The Christian Science Monitor. "We think these animals migrate up the coast from where they're born at a very early age. They have these nursery habitats, which we're starting to delineate, which seem to be protective and great food sources. And they are resident there for three or four years until they get to a certain size" and start to migrate seasonally up and down the coast.
It is important to note that the sharks may look like they are dangerous, they aren't considered one of the aggressive sharks. They can still grow up to 10 feet long and weigh up to 350 pounds.
Officials were first alerted to the nursery in 2011, when they received a photo of a dead sand shark from a local marina. As it turned out, local anglers and boaters had seen the sharks - and even caught some - in the bay area for about a decade.
Over the past three seasons, Dohlin and his team have tagged about 15 sand tiger sharks.
Now, the officials aren't releasing much more information about the location of these sharks, because the species is considered to be vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and is a candidate for the U.S. Endangered Species List, according to the aquarium. This is, in part, due to the low reproductive rate in female sand tiger sharks. They are working to build up the numbers again, which takes time.
"This is a protected spot," Dohlin said. "We're trying to be very careful about [the] specificity of what we say about where this area is. Right now, we're finding nothing that would concern us about the health of this population [of sand tiger sharks]."
These sharks are also pretty mysterious, so they are trying to find out more information about them.
"One of the reasons we are excited about this information is because there are a lot of unanswered questions," Dohlin said.
Some of those questions include: how fast do sand tiger sharks grow? What makes this a good nursery? Will they return to this spot? Is there a correlation between where females matured and where their pups mature?
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This is also a sign that global warming might have an effect on the immature sand tiger sharks - which could be leading to dwindling numbers.