Why Did a Frozen Shark Wash Up on a Cape Cod Beach?

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Last week, a large, completely frozen shark was found dead by a photographer on a Cape Cod beach. Meteorologists, marine biologists, and interested viewers have all had questions and theories about how this happened, so read on below for the full story.

When was the shark found?

This weekend, a fully grown shark was found washed up on a beach in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Many people on the beach saw the shark, but local photographer Amie Medeiros was the first to document it. The surprising thing about this particular shark was that it was completely frozen, leading people to wonder how it died and whether it had frozen to death.

By the time researchers arrived to study the shark, the fin, tail, and teeth had all been removed. This is illegal under Massachusetts law, so authorities are encouraging anyone who knows about this to report it. It’s common for poachers to illegally remove these to keep or sell.

What kind of shark was it?

Upon looking at the shark, many people incorrectly identified it as a great white shark due to its mouth, which was hanging open, clearly exposing many sharp teeth. Marine biologists who studied the shark in detail later came to a different conclusion.

The frozen shark was actually identified as a porbeagle shark, a species commonly found in the North Atlantic. Porbeagles are one of the only species of shark that can typically stand the cold weather found in this region. Porbeagles often stay relatively close to shore, and most documented sightings of them have taken place in fishing reefs and other areas near the beach.

Did the shark freeze to death?

As porbeagles typically live in the North Atlantic and are accustomed to the cold water, it’s unlikely that the shark froze to death. Porbeagles are most commonly found in water between 40 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit but have been recorded in water as low as 34 degrees. The shark had extensive injuries to its side, which led observers to assume that the shark had died before it washed up on shore.

Instead, the shark’s body most likely froze after it washed up on shore. The Cape Cod area was hit with a polar vortex last week, and temperatures dropped as low as eight degrees below zero. In fact, one marine biologist said he believes the shark is the same one that washed up on another beach in the area earlier that week, and that it drifted out to sea and back onto land, freezing there.

Has this happened before?

It’s actually more common than you might think for a dead shark to wash up on shore, and this is the sixth one that has been found in Cape Cod this year. This is partially due to the geography of Cape Cod, which stretches out like an extended arm and makes it difficult for struggling animals close to shore to make it back out to sea.

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