Bull sharks are a coastal species, but at least two bull sharks were able to reach St. Louis by swimming up to the Mississippi River. This was according to a team that examined the fossil record of the shark and reported sightings throughout the years.
Nicholas Gardner, a WVU Potomac State college librarian with degrees in ecology, and Ryan Shell, a Cincinnati Museum Center paleontologist, reviewed hundreds of shark reports in the Mississippi River. They then compared these historical records to archaeological and paleontological evidence that bull sharks were moving in those waters in the distant past. Their results were published in the journal Marine & Fishery Sciences. The results of their research were published by the journal Marine & Fishery Sciences.
Ryan may have said something along the lines of “hey, bull sharks couldgo up to the Mississippi,” and my first thought was that ‘bull ****,'” Gardner had written in an email.
The sharks have been known to venture into freshwater from other continents than the African, Asian and Australian coasts they live on. However, the fossil record does not contain evidence of bull sharks in the river. Some teeth can be found inland but they are not in natural fossils and do not appear to be associated with other species. This suggests that they might have been traded inland.
Although no sightings have been reported before the beginning of the 20th Century, Shell and Gardner did find two bull shark captures in the historical record. One was in Alton, Illinois in 1937 and one outside of St. Louis, Missouri in 1995. The 1937 shark measured 5 feet in length and weighed 84 pounds.
The sighting records are littered with inaccurate or incomplete reports. These reports were often recited from one news source to another. These piggybacked sightings accounted for the majority of reports Shell and Gardner reviewed.
Gardner stated that anyone with access to a computer can create a website that looks authoritative. However, if someone does not do their due diligence, then misinformation will slip in. “We dealt with biology as best we could, but now I want to know what drives hoaxes and misidentifications.
Bull shark fossil evidence is not found in freshwater deposits. This could indicate that sharks’ recent ventures into freshwater are a relatively recent evolution in their behavior. Researchers believe that the occasional venture into freshwater has been a habit for the sharks for many millions of years. However, it is not documented in the fossil record. The third theory is that Mississippi fishing is unusual for fish, and the two specimens they caught can be considered anomalous.