No bull

Illustration by Robert Meganck

Of the things you might expect to encounter in the Potomac River, here’s one you may not have thought of: 8-foot sharks. Which is why the discovery last summer, of not one, but two 8-foot bull sharks trapped in a commercial fisherman’s net on the Maryland side of the Potomac caused something of a splash—so to speak—in the local news. What gave the story a particular twist was that the same fisherman had made the news three years earlier—for catching a bull shark in his net on the Potomac. In that same week in 2010, another fisherman on the river also caught one.

“Cue the Jaws theme,” read the 2010 headline on The Washington Post’s breaking-news blog.

The casual reader, skimming articles about both events, might note that the catches took place near where the river meets the Chesapeake Bay and conclude that “sharks in the river” is the stuff of low-budget fright films. The casual reader would be mistaken.

“I often like to say that almost everything you know about sharks is wrong,” says John Morrissey, a former professor of biology at Sweet Briar College in Amherst and a man who knows his way around a shark. (He may be the only person you’ll ever talk with whose story about being pursued to the beach by a hungry tiger shark ends with him angrily storming back into the water, armed only with mask and fins, to try to chase the shark down and teach it a lesson.)

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