Although most anglers are well aware that bull sharks prowl the brackish waters of Lake Pontchartrain, many New Orleans residents — some of whom have been swimming in the lake all their lives — have no idea.
That may change after 7-year-old Trent Trentacosta of Lakeview was bitten Friday while swimming with his family near Southshore Harbor. The story has generated shock among many commenters on NOLA.com and Facebook.
But according to Bob Shipp’s authoritative book on area species, Guide to Fishes of the Gulf of Mexico, no one should be surprised the lake is home to bull sharks.
“The bull shark is one of the most abundant inshore shark species in the Gulf region and the most abundant in less-saline areas,” Shipp states. “It has been recorded farther inland than any other species, at least a hundred miles upstream in Louisiana.”
According to New Orleans-area shark expert Mitchell Chevalier, Friday’s attack could have been from a blacktip shark, but because salinities are currently so low in the lake, he said it’s unlikely. After viewing photos of the bite pattern on Trent’s foot, Chevalier was convinced the attack was from a bull shark.
Such attacks are not uncommon, according to Shipp.
“Bull sharks are recognized man-eaters,” he writes. “Numerous bull shark attacks on bathers in Florida, Alabama and Central America have been verified.”
The fish are easily recognized by their extremely blunt, round snouts, according to Shipp.