Shark sighting at Misquamicut State Beach was sunfish, not shark

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WESTERLY, R.I. (WWLP/WPRI) – Swimmers were told to get out of the water at Misquamicut State Beach in Rhode Island after a shark sighting.

After initially believing a fin spotted in the waters off Misquamicut Beach Friday morning was a mako shark, the Department of Environmental Management now says it believes it was an ocean sunfish.

Michael Healey, a spokesman for the Department of Environmental Management, said after looking a video, the agency changed its determination.

“We [initially] didn’t think it was the dorsal fin of another frequent visitor, the sand tiger shark; it didn’t look high enough to be a great white’s fin; it wasn’t flopping over to the side like a sunfish’s fin can do; and the tail fin of a thresher is even higher than the dorsal fin, and there’s no visible tail fin in the photo,” Healey said. “A photograph, however, is static. In the video, it appears that, actually, the dorsal fin does move — whereas a shark’s dorsal fin is stationary.”

Michael Healey

Healey said swimmers were ordered out of the water after the beach manager, lifeguards, and beach patrons saw the fin around 9:45 a.m. near the buoy marking the swim area, which is about 50 yards from shore.

“At about 9:45 AM, our beach manager, lifeguards, and patrons at Misquamicut State Beach all saw a fin near the buoy marking the swim area about 50 yards from shore. This area is in the center of the half-mile long beach, directly in front of the beach tower.”

Michael Healey

South Hadley residents Kathleen O’Connor Stark and Tracy Shaffer Clark were there when lifeguards blew their whistles and yelled shark sighting before ordering everyone to get out of the water. They said environmental police showed up shortly after.

Healey said at about 10:30 a.m., a second fin was spotted much farther out in the water. It’s their policy to keep swimmers out of the water for an hour after a sighting. By 11:45 a.m., Healey said the water had been reopened to swimmers.

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