Freshwater Sharks


While many people are afraid to go into the ocean because they fear sharks, they do not fear lakes where they often come into close contact with fresh water sharks. The freshwater sharks do not receive as much publicity as the ocean sharks. Once prominent in tropical river systems, fishing pressure, pollution and habitat destruction through overdevelopment have decimated their natural populations, according to shark biologist Dr John Stevens. They can still be found in large bodies of fresh water in central and southern states that have sufficient ecosystems to support these large predatory fish. Since sharks are a cold blooded animal, they become dormant during winter months just like other fish and reptiles but when the water warms up in the summer, recreational water sports can become dangerous if people are not aware and take proper safety steps.


Freshwater sharks rarely achieve lengths greater than 8 feet. This is thought to be due to the fact that they are dormant in colder weather and do not feed year round. It could also be an adaptation needed to survive in a limited body of water with limited food supply. The longest freshwater shark on record was found in Deep Creek Lake in the western panhandle of Maryland in 1983. It measured 9 feet 4 inches in length and weighed 512 pounds. The only other freshwater shark over 8 feet in length was found in Lake Cumberland, Kentucky in 2001. It was 8 feet 7 inches long and weighed 428 pounds and was thought to be responsible for all 3 shark attacks in that lake that summer.



"Deep water lakes may contain the last healthy populations of speartooth sharks and freshwater sawfish and there is an urgent need to establish how many remain, where they occur and how those should be managed," says Dr Stevens, from CSIRO Marine Research. "Sharks and rays are more vulnerable to human exploitation than bony fishes because of their different life-history strategy. Freshwater sharks are even more at risk because they combine these biological characteristics with all the problems associated with a reduced habitat and inland development", he says.

In a tragic event last week just southwest of Golden, Colorado two firefighters ran into Cedar Lake to escape a rapidly advancing wild fire that had surrounded their location and blocked off their access to escape by land. While treding water and awaiting rescue, one of the men, 34 year old Jimmy Higgins, was attacked by a freshwater shark. He died before rescuers could get to him. It was the first reported attack in Cedar Lake in three decades.


Sharks have been around far longer than people on this earth. Whenever we enter the water, be it oceans or large lakes, we have to understand that we are entering their territory. Be respectful and cautious and you can enjoy water recreation any place along with these beautiful creatures that share our planet.
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