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Rarity on Oregon Coast Beaches, Sevengill Shark Washes Up at Gearhart

Published 04/04/21 at 6:55 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Rarity on Oregon Coast Beaches, Sevengill Shark Washes Up at Gearhart

(Gearhart, Oregon) – A real rarity washed up on the north Oregon coast this week, discovered after a local couple were walking on the beaches of Gearhart. (All photos courtesy Tiffany Boothe, Seaside Aquarium)

On Wednesday, March 31, Coreen Mitchell and her husband were taking a stroll when they ran across a shark. They called Seaside Aquarium, and as the facility is part of the Marine Mammal Stranding Network, it responded to the scene to pick up the deceased animal and investigate.

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Tiffany Boothe of the Seaside Aquarium grabbed many photos and explained it was a Broadnose Sevengill shark, about six feet long.

“The shark was dead before washing in and had what looked to be bites from another shark,” Boothe said. “Broadnose sevengill sharks are one of seventeen species of sharks that can be found off the Oregon coast.”

Aquarium manager Keith Chandler said he and the aquarium have only encountered a small handfull of these since he started with the attraction 40 years ago - roughly every ten years. According to Oregon Coast Beach Connection records, Seaside Aquarium encountered one in 2020 and two in 2011. Even though there's plenty of them off the Oregon coast, they're quite a rare sight since they live way offshore.

“Like their name suggests, the broadnose sevengill shark is unique in that it has seven gills while most species of sharks have five gills (apart from two species of sixgill sharks),” Boothe said. “They can be found off the eastern and wester Pacific, Argentina, and South Africa in estuaries, bays, and at ocean depths from nearshore to 400 feet. Smaller sevengills feed on fish and squid but as they get bigger they start to prey on marine mammals and are known to hunt in packs.”

They get up to 400 pounds and nearly ten feet long.

Are they dangerous to humans? Boothe said likely not – but there may be some leeway on that issue. Boothe said there has never been a documented attack on a human by a sevengill along the Oregon or Washington coast, even though they are known for being quite aggressive when feeding.

“Worldwide, they have only been responsible for five attacks on humans since the 17th century and none were fatal,” Boothe said. “Though the jury is still out on that one since human remains have been found in the stomachs of some sevengills.”

When news stories like this are published, many on social media go a little overboard and declare something major is wrong with the ocean. As if an occurrence like this is a sign of some form of doom. That is not the case, however. Stuff washes up all on the time along the Oregon coast and Washington coast.

In fact, what people should be asking is “why doesn't MORE stuff wash up?” Considering that every square meter of water down in that Pacific Ocean is crammed with life forms of one kind or another, it's actually a little odd or even alarming more isn't seen on the beaches.

Chandler said the answer to that is rather simple as well: “most things just sink to the bottom after they die, and there they get consumed.”

Those things a little closer to shore run more of a chance to get washed up onto a beach, he said. However, there are those natural but slightly odd upwelling events where storms cause lots of stuff to get dredged up from the bottom of the ocean and dragged onto land.

In the case of the sevengill it's likely it was closer to shore and died not very long ago.

“If he had been out there longer he may not have washed up,” Chandler said. “He would've sunk to the bottom like everything else before he could've come in.”

The Seaside Aquarium recovered the shark and it will be used as an educational tool for a local school group.

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