BAR HARBOR — A fisherman in Bass Harbor called Allied Whale at College of the Atlantic last September to report a thresher shark in his possession as the result of bycatch. A necropsy on the shark, which had been kept in the freezer at the college for the last eight months, was performed at the COA campus on May 6.
Allied Whale, a marine mammal laboratory, wasn’t interested in the shark since it was out of its scope of study but helped to collect it and turn it over to COA student Tess Moore.
Moore, a third-year student and employee at the Dorr Museum of Natural History, spent the spring term designing an independent study aimed at extracting the most scientific and educational value from the shark. Moore contacted the Department of Marine Resources for assistance and support, made plans to include students at the nearby Community School and contacted laboratories across the country that would also be interested in receiving samples of the shark for further study.
That work led to what Moore said is likely the first shark necropsy on campus. The female shark, weighing in at 280 pounds, was 13 feet long, including a 6-foot tail. Finding a thresher shark in Maine is uncommon but not unheard of, said Moore, who believes, based on the contents of its stomach, that it was following — and snacking on — a school of small fish, which is its preferred diet. The thresher shark has a very small mouth, said Moore, and is harmless to humans.
Samples of the shark’s skin and stomach contents will be sent to labs, and an aging study will be performed on vertebrae collected, along with a toxicology study.
Video footage was taken during the necropsy and will be edited into a short educational video to showcase the project.
Moore will continue to work with the shark next semester and will create a scale model and an exhibit for the museum.
“It has been an honor to have the opportunity to work with this amazing animal,” said Moore, adding that even though it was unfortunate the animal had to die, every bit of it was going to be used to advance science.