NARRAGANSETT, R.I. — P.J. Dougherty Jr. has spent the majority of his life in Narragansett, spending summer days hitting the waves on his surfboard at the town beach. It makes him no stranger to what could creep beneath the surface.
He was near Narragansett Town Beach when the general manager of the Dunes Club, a private beach club, called him and said he should come down and check out the spectacle in the water — and to bring his camera.
Swimmers were pulled from the water at the beach after the shark was spotted, and many of them stood at the shoreline for the closest view. A lifeguard in a kayak stayed in the water, just feet away from the shark’s fins.
The shark appeared to be injured, according to town officials.
A self-proclaimed marine life lover, Dougherty directed his drone over the shark for about 20 minutes and posted a video to his Instagram account on Thursday. The footage had more than 16,000 views by Friday morning.
“Injured thresher shark spotted at Narragansett Town Beach,” he wrote in a caption for the video with music that echoed the iconic “Jaws” theme song.
He said the music was for a fun special effect, but that he hoped the video he captured raised awareness.
“We need to preserve our waters and learn more about marine life. Sharks are our friends. They are predators, but we are swimming in their waters. We need to respect them in their natural habitat,” said Dougherty, who is a videographer, photographer, and works for Mott & Chace Sotheby’s International Realty as their creative strategist. He’s branded as the “drone guy,” and is launching Any Aerial this fall, which will offer drone and aerial services through a network of pilots.
He said the shark looked like a juvenile at less than 10 feet long, and hoped it was able to get the help it needs.
“We need to protect them. If we are just killing sharks, it’s not going to do any good for our entire ecosystem,” Dougherty told the Globe.
This latest sighting comes after swimmers were forced to evacuate the water at East Beach in Charlestown, R.I., on Sunday because of a thresher spotted there. It’s unclear if it was the same shark.
Jon Dodd, executive director of the Atlantic Shark Institute, told the Globe that thresher sharks aren’t a threat to humans. They have small jaws and typically eat bait fish, menhaden, squid, mackerel, and smaller schooling fish.
The sharks can grow up to 20 feet.
“Because they’re so long, they cruise around and get bait into a tiny ball, then they take that enormous tail and whip through the bait hard,” Dodd said. “It stuns them, and then [the sharks] eat them all. … It’s a really cool adaptation.”
Their tails are half the length of their bodies and their cartilage is “as hard as a rock,” which allows them to use their tails to hunt, said Dodd. They’re a fairly common shark in Rhode Island, and Dodd said he’s been hit by a thresher’s tail while trying to tag them.
“I’ve tagged quite a few for research, and they fly out of the water and they fight,” said Dodd.
The Institute announced recently that 2021 has been its “most productive shark research season to date.” Earlier this week, four new great white sharks were detected swimming off the coast of Block Island recently, “pinging” the acoustic receivers placed around the island.
These new sharks have raised Block Island’s total to 14 different great whites detected by the Institute since it started studying their travels in Rhode Island’s waters in 2019.
“Less than 5 percent of great whites are tagged, so that’s almost certainly a small fraction of what’s coming through,” Dodd said.