Ocracoke nature, flora & fauna

Ask the Observer: shark vertebra found on the beach

 

from Lisa Eiland

By Peter Vankevich
Photos provided by Lisa Day  Eiland

Dear Observer:
While visiting Ocracoke last weekend, I came across two in¬teresting objects. This one was found along the beach across from the Pony Pen on Fri¬day, 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,” he 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.”

Lisa Day image (4)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 of those species reach sizes from eight to 12 feet, live a long time and grow slowly, he said.from Lisa Day

“All three of those species have experienced population declines from overfishing 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.”

If you have a questions about Ocracoke, such as, what was that plant, bird or turtle you saw, or a question about Oc­racoke’s fascinating history, send The Observer a note in­cluding a photo if you have one.

We’ll try to answer it. Send inquiries to info@ocracokeob­server.com, and use as the subject “Ask the Observer.”