NEWBURYPORT — Police and harbormasters investigated a report this morning of a great white shark that a fisherman claims to have seen at the mouth of the Merrimack River, the area where the river spills out into the Atlantic Ocean.
According to Newburyport Harbormaster Paul Hogg, the fisherman reported that he had just pulled a legal-sized striped bass onto his boat and was gutting it, letting blood run into the water. The shark suddenly emerged from the water, then rolled over and swam off. The fisherman is said to have gotten a good observation of the shark, and reported the shark was as "about as long as his boat," which is 24 feet.
However the size of the shark has not been confirmed by authorities. Great whites are rarely seen in this region, and there have been no prior reports of a shark in the river. While authorities are investigating the report, they have not confirmed that it is indeed a great white shark.
Hogg said the shark had some white on it, but that does not necessarily mean it was a great white
He also noted that the Hudson, N.H., fisherman who reported it is an experienced fisherman who is frequently in local waters.
The state police dispatched a helicopter to conduct an aerial search, and Newburyport's harbormaster and the state Environmental Police also helped with the search. The search began around 10 a.m. and were called off about three hours later.
Hogg said fishing has generally been good around the mouth of the river, and that it is "definitely not out of the realm of possibility" that a large shark could come this far toward shore in search of fish. There have been reports of many seals in the area, and sharks are natural predators of seals.
Swimmers at Salisbury Beach were being told earlier today to not wade out beyond their knees, but that has since been rescinded. They were also warned of the shark sighting when they came up to the entry gate. While some people decided to leave, others drove in to spend the day at the beach.
The river is tidal in the area where the shark was spotted, and so it's not uncommon for saltwater fish to be found in the mouth. A few years ago, a baluga whale swam as far up the river as Newburyport, which is about a mile upriver from the mouth. Seals have been known to swim 5 or more miles upriver, in pursuit of fish.
Reporters and photographers for The Daily News are on the scene, and more reports will be filed as they become available.