UPDATED: Sand tiger shark caught near Wiscasset ‘a special encounter’

Captain Dean Krah: Catch ‘blew our mind’; species described as docile
Sun, 08/28/2022 - 3:15pm

    “He’s back out there.”

    He is a nearly four-foot shark a client caught Aug. 25 on Captain Dean Krah’s boat about a mile north of Donald E. Davey Bridge that spans the Sheepscot River from Edgecomb to Wiscasset. In a series of emails, Krah told Maine Department of Marine Resources and Boothbay Register/Wiscasset Newspaper about last week’s catch and release. Sheepscot-raised and chartering out of Wiscasset for over 40 years, Krah has been going out on the local waters for over 60 years; and he had never had a catch that looked like the one they made that day.

    In the emails and a phone interview Sunday, the Newcastle man said he was out on his Bass-1 Charters boat, a 17 1/2-foot Tracker, with a regular client of his – Dr. Dave Fischer of Minnesota – and a guest, Westport Island’s Al Andrews.

    On all trips, Krah goes to the mouth of a river for mackerel to use as bait, and then goes back up to fish for stripers. He said the catch happened at the mouth of Marsh River, a tributary of the Sheepscot. “(Fischer) hooked up (what) I thought was a 50-pound striper, the way it fought.

    “Well, when we got it into (the) net it was a shark. I have dealt with every shark out here in (the) ocean including great white, but never saw anything like this one. Blew our mind,” Krah said.

    “Holy. I was surprised,” Andrews said in a phone interview Monday. Andrews, who has lived in Westport Island since 1997, recalled seeing the rod getting repeatedly pulled down toward the water during Fischer’s fight with what turned out to be the shark. 

    With the shark aboard, the group took photos and then released it. The photos were a challenge. Krah said when he was trying to partly hold it, the shark kept trying to bite him, and he doesn’t know why they all weren’t bitten because it was not pleased, he said. According to DMR’s Matt Davis’ email responses to Wiscasset Newspaper’s questions, and according to Krah’s research and the newspaper’s look at nationalgeographic.com, sand tiger sharks can look ferocious but are docile until bothered.

    Krah also did a DMR shark sighting report. Friday, Davis identified it as a sand tiger shark. Davis told Wiscasset Newspaper Monday, “Sand tiger sharks, like any large animal, have the potential to harm a human,” but the species has never been linked to a fatality, he said. “And the International Shark Attack File only has 36 unprovoked incidences on file worldwide ... The sand tiger species is generally not characterized as being aggressive towards people.”

    In earlier emails Krah forwarded Sunday, Davis wrote to him, “That’s a really neat find, what you have there is a sand tiger shark, Carcharhinus taurus. They’re pretty identifiable by having fairly ragged teeth, a ‘hunched’ back, a very tall second dorsal fin, and a very long upper tail lobe. As you can see, sometimes the younger ones have spots along their sides too. Sand tigers are not uncommon in Maine, but we usually hear about them more in the south around the Nubble/Cape Neddick area. I imagine as our waters warm over the coming decades, we could be seeing more of them extend throughout the state.”

    Davis told the paper Monday, sharks migrate a lot, so “it’s not entirely possible to deduce why this one ... was where it was, but (there) could be ... a number of factors such as foraging opportunities, temperature preference, or predator avoidance.”

    He said the species may have been in Midcoast Maine some time, unreported or mistaken for another species. He cited a 2012 study in South Africa, in which sand tiger sharks traveled in waters 50 to 72 degrees F, “not uncommon temperatures for the Gulf of Maine during summer. However, as sea temperatures continue to rise in the coming years, we may have a longer window in which coastal Maine waters provide optimal habitat conditions for sand tiger sharks and other species (and) as warm temperatures expand poleward, we could see indeed distribution ranges extend across the state for a number of species, including the one here,” Davis explained.

    Krah had never heard of a sand tiger shark being caught in Maine, much less one being caught near the Sheepscot. Krah, Davis and Wiscasset Newspaper checked with DMR’s Clarisse Brown of the agency’s Boothbay Harbor office to see just how special a catch the one near the bridge may have been. Brown is with DMR’s Recreational Marine Fisheries Program. She responded via email Monday: “A check of Maine’s recreational fisheries data revealed sand tiger shark catch was reported across only a couple years in the mid-1980s, and the catches were all offshore,” according to National Marine Fisheries Service’s Fisheries Statistics Division, Brown wrote.

    “A review of DMR’s Maine State Record Saltwater Game Fish and DMR’s Tackle-Busters reveal no records for sand tiger shark,” Brown continued. “Among our recorded catch data, Captain Dean Krah’s sand tiger shark hook-up is certainly an unusual and special encounter.”

    Krah said the shark must have been young based on its look and length of 44-plus inches. According to nationalgeographic.com, sand tiger sharks get to be 6.5 to 10.5 feet long.

    The shark was the second recent unusual catch for Krah. A few weeks earlier, he and twin sister Donna Krah were fishing Sagadahoc Bay, “just this side of Popham,” when he thought they had a big clump of seaweed on the hook, he recalled. He said it turned out to be a sea snail called a whelk that about fit the palm of a hand. They put it on the deck and it started to move around. “And I said ‘Oh my god, it’s alive!’”

    He then kept it alive five days in saltwater and ice, before releasing it back into the water on another boat outing.

    “My motto is, you got to have the bait in the water to catch something, but you never know what’s going to come up on the other end.”

    This story has been updated with more information and interviews since its posting Sunday.