Update: Dead Seal NOT Killed By a Shark Off Fire Island Near Smith Point; Cause of Death Unknown

The seal carcass found and photographed last Saturday on the beach a mile west of Smith Point was NOT as it turned out killed by a shark, and certainly not a Great White.   While Great Whites are feeding on seals off Cape Cod, we’ve yet to see any evidence that they are doing the same around Long Island.

On Monday the seal carcass was brought by The National Park Service to The Riverhead Foundation For Marine Research and Preservation, and examined by Kimberly Durham.     Here are her findings.

“The state of decomposition was advanced as indicated by the degradation of the visceral organs (liver, spleen). Although the exact time of death cannot be determined it was not fresh on Saturday and likely was at least several days deceased prior to washing ashore.

The body conditioning (blubber thickness) was measured at 2.2 cm which is supportive of an acute death and not indicative of a prolonged illness. The presentation of the lung tissue is consistent with acute congestion but cause of death could not be attributed to drowning due to the extent of decomposition. The examination of damage to the epidermis along the back and neck region did not reveal any evidence of shark predation or scavenging but was consistent with scavenger damage from large predatory fish species such as bass, weak or blue. Contents of the stomach included recently digested fish and squid (analysis of contents for species will be done at a later time). Analysis of the gastric intestinal tract supports foraging prior to death. The examination was inconclusive as to whether the cause of death was attributed to human activity and a finding of CBD (Cannot Be Determined) was indicated for the (HI) Human Interaction examination.”

Save The Great South Bay will in the future be far more cautious before going to press;    We engaged in a lot of speculation and didn’t wait until the facts came in.     By principle, we strive to be driven by science.    Through science, this bay can be saved, along with the estuaries that feed it.   Along the way, the group DID learn a great deal about Great Whites and their hunting patterns when attacking seals.   They often do decapitate a seal on the initial strike as they seek to bite it in such a way that it bleeds to death.  They then let the carcass float to the surface and eat the rest.   This seal was decapitated, but as Kimberly noted to me, the head fell off at some point as fish scavenged it.  The fish typically enter through the eyes and eventually enough the flesh is consumed that the skull, which is quite heavy, detaches from the body.
Several experts on sharks told us early on it wasn’t a shark attack, and they were right.    STGSB believes in expert opinion.  Here we put some speculation out there, and alarmed the public unduly.    In the future, we will be more responsible.

Marshall Brown, Executive Director Save The Great South Bay




  1. Shannon Murray-Corsale says:

    That looks more like an unfortunate incident with the propeller of a boat motor than with a shark.

  2. Julia says:

    I saw a fresh dead seal along the shore with it’s head intact just a week before I saw the decomposing seal in the photos above just a little farther down the shore on Fire Island. The ‘serrations’ were from the Great Black Backed Gulls that were beginning to eat it.

    • Same bite patterns on a dead seal in the same area, and you witnessed gulls picking the carcass? Interesting. In any case the carcass is being examined now to determine what killed it. Decapitation, I have learned, is often how Great Whites kill seals. They bite the head so that it bleeds to death. If Great Whites are hunting and killing seals now off Cape Cod, it is not out of the question we have the same situation here with our burgeoning seal population.

      We will have the facts soon enough.

  3. Arvid says:

    Oh well not a GWS. I remember a seal living and rolling in the Starling manure under the bridge between Moriches and GSB. We thought it may of been a fur seal with the crap caked on him. Well anyway let’s focus on cleaning up our bay.

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