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Sharks In Illinois

by In-Fisherman   |  July 16th, 2012 7

The Atlas of North American Freshwater Fishes describes the bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas) as an aggressive shark that reaches 10 feet in length and has been known to attack man. Its range extends as far up the Mississippi River as Alton, Illinois.

According to the Illinois Department of Conservation, two commercial fishermen from Alton, Herbert Cope and Dudge Collins, caught a bull shark in 1937. They found something troubling their wood and mesh traps late that summer. Concluding that it was a fish, they built a strong wire trap and baited it with chicken guts.

The next morning, they caught a 5-foot 84-pound shark, which they displayed in the Calhoun Fish Market where it attracted crowds for days. Although some folks suspected a hoax, the catch was considered authentic. Biologists later concluded from photos that it was a bull shark. Recently, Clint Smith of Alton supplied an old photo of the catch, with the present-day ADM flourmill in the background.

Bull sharks can live a long time in freshwater. In 1972, one was caught 2,500 miles up the Amazon. The journey from New Orleans to Alton is about 1,750 miles. Dams now prevent sharks from entering Illinois.

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Gulf Coast Red Snapper

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  • the59king

    Quote from article: “Dams now prevent sharks from entering Illinois.”

    Simply not true. The farthest downstream (southerly) dam on the Mississippi River is the Melvin Price Locks and Dam at river mile 200.78 in East Alton — within miles of where that photo was taken.

    There are (still) around 150+ miles of Illinois/Missouri river frontage without a dam of any sort separating it from the Gulf of Mexico. The shark that Messrs. Cope and Collins caught swam under St Louis’ Eads bridge, and there’s no manmade physical barrier — dam or otherwise — that’d prevent another from doing the same.

    A hypothetical present-day shark could still swim within a mile of where the 1937 shark was taken before it’d come to the river’s first dam.

  • Joshua Schuette

    This is my Great Great Great Grandpa, Herbert Cope

  • Jake

    Wouldn’t it be theoreticallypossible to say a shark could pass from pool to pool as barge traffic passes through the locks? I find it hard to believe that a lock and dam is going to effectively stop mother nature. Bull Sharks can and have reproducd in freshwater

    • audry

      I believe you’re right. I’ve thought that myself. I also believe they’re in the Missouri river, as it branches off into the Mississippi. They’ve been caught and seen in lakes and smaller rivers also.

    • james

      note: in times of high water the lock gates are open all the way . a whale could swim though any of the open gates.

  • Harvard

    What happens if there is a flood? These sharks are like hound dogs of the water. They could easily swim around these man made structures if flooding has happened.

    • Jeffrey Parsons

      Of Course, if you go too far north you run into some of the fresh water lakes that dump into the Hocking River (which joins the Ohio): Cenci Lake in Lancaster and Lake Dow below Athens. Piranha found in both lakes.

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