By Peter Vankevich
Photos provided by Lisa Day Eiland
While visiting Ocracoke last weekend, I came across two interesting objects. This one was found along the beach across from the Pony Pen on Friday, Feb. 13, around 3:30 p.m. –Lisa Day Eiland
Looking at this find and handling it, a couple people wondered if this is a work of nature or something artificially manufactured.
“It’s nothing I’m familiar with and I’m pretty sure it’s not from a cetacean,” one expert responded via email.
The next expert consulted was Charles Bangley, a Ph.D. candidate in the Coastal Resource Management Program at East Carolina University. He also visited Ocracoke recently for an NPS-sponsored presentation on sharks of North Carolina’s Outer and Inner Banks, and he had the opportunity to handle it.
“It definitely looks like a shark vertebra to me,” he said that night. “It looks a little light to be a fossil, and if it was just found on the beach it’s likely relatively fresh.”
From the size of it and what looked like quite a few rings, his educated guess was that it came from a sandbar or dusky shark, or possibly a sand tiger, which are the more common larger species around the Outer Banks this time of year.
“All three of those species have experienced population declines from over fishing and habitat loss,” he said, “but, fortunately all are rebounding thanks to fishery management measures.”
He also added that one can estimate the age of the shark by counting the rings on the vertebra, like counting the rings on a tree stump.
“A lot of sharks lay down annual vertebral rings as they grow and reliable size-at-age curves have been published for most of the species in North Carolina waters,” Bangley said. “Between the size of the vertebra and the number of rings we can probably make a good guess as to how large the shark was, and maybe what species it was.”
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