One of the first things visitors might wonder about Buzzards Bay is whether it is safe to swim in. This body of water is an inlet of the Atlantic Ocean with its coastline in Massachusetts.
Buzzards Bay is teeming with marine life, and many wild animals make their home in the surrounding area. Here’s everything you need to know about the creatures who make their home in and around Buzzards Bay, and whether or not it is safe for swimming.
What Is Buzzards Bay?
Buzzards Bay is a bay of the Atlantic Ocean located adjacent to Massachusetts. The bay is about 28 miles long and 5-10 miles wide, and it extends to the base of the Cape Cod Peninsula. The bay is surrounded by the Elizabeth Islands to the southeast and Cape Cod to the northeast.
A number of small islands dot Buzzards Bay, including Amrita Island, Bird Islands, and the Elizabeth Islands. Several lighthouses in the area date back to the 19th century, including one that lies on the tiny Bird Island.
Buzzards Bay is a popular spot for fishing boating and tourism, and its coastline includes an abundance of fishing villages, summer resorts, and yacht clubs. Buzzards Bay’s settlement dates back to the 17th century. It is believed that the name stems from colonists misidentifying ospreys in the area as buzzards.
Is Buzzards Bay Safe to Swim?
In general, most beaches in Buzzards Bay are safe to swim in, according to the Buzzards Bay National Estuary Program. The bay area offers 310 miles of scenic coastline, 13.4 miles of public beaches, and 31.9 miles of “semi-public” beaches.
Most beaches in Buzzards Bay have very clean water. However, a small number of beaches typically have high fecal coliforms after heavy rain. These beaches tend to be near rivers, salt marsh channels, or stormwater pipes.
The site notes that municipalities tend to monitor water quality at beaches on the same day each week, so adverse conditions in the days following heavy rain might not be noted. For this reason, there are some beaches in the Buzzards Bay area where it is best to avoid swimming for a day or two after heavy rain.
Finally, while there are sharks and other marine life in the waters of Buzzards Bay, attacks on humans (especially fatal ones) are quite rare. Let’s dive into what lurks in the waters of the bay and its surrounding area.
Wildlife in Buzzards Bay
Buzzards Bay is a popular fishing spot, so it stands to reason that a large number of marine life makes its home in this body of water. Let’s explore some of the most common creatures.
Buzzards Bay is a fisherman’s paradise, and there is no shortage of creatures to catch. A number of fish make their home in Buzzards Bay, but some of the most prized for fishermen are the area’s striped bass, black sea bass, fluke, and scup.
The Buzzards Bay National Estuary Program writes that the bay is recognized as a highly valuable resource area for the many species of finfish that make their home in the area. It also provides a habitat for fish migrating north during the spring and summer.
Striped bass can be a variety of colors, such as light green, steel blue, or black with silver bellies and dark stripes running along their sides.
According to the Buzzards Bay Coalition, who interviewed expert fisherman Tom Richardson, larger striped bass begin to show up around rock piles and bottom features in shallow waters starting in the month of May. Skilled fishermen have the chance to real in striped bass weighing up to 50 pounds!
As their name suggests, black sea bass are usually black in color with a slightly paler belly. Richardson recommends looking for these fish in slightly deeper water than striped bass. Finally, fluke and scup are easy-to-catch bottom-dwelling fish. Scup prefers shallow waters and can even be caught from shore!
Shellfish and Baitfish
A number of shellfish also make their home in Buzzards Bay. They include crustaceans such as lobsters and mollusks/bivalves such as quahogs (hard-shelled clams), bay scallops, soft-shelled clams, and oysters.
Smaller fish also live in the numerous inlets, coves, and freshwater streams of Buzzard Bay. These species include minnows, sand eels, silversides, and alewives. These “baitfish” attract larger recreational species and may be collected by fishermen to use as live bait.
Sharks, Whales, and Seals
There are more creatures than fish lurking in Buzzards Bay. Several species of shark make their home in the area, including the following:
- Sand tiger sharks
- Spiny dogfish
- Basking sharks
- Great white sharks
- Sandbar sharks
- Thresher sharks
- Smooth dogfish
- Blacktip sharks
- Bull sharks
- Blue sharks
Buzzards Bay is also a great place for whale watching. Humpback whales are common in the waters surrounding Massachusetts. You may also spot North Atlantic right whales, which often swim around Cape Cod Bay and the Great South Channel. Minke whales are also common in the North Atlantic Ocean.
Finally, visitors to Buzzards Bay can enjoy seal watching during the colder months of the year. According to the Buzzards Bay Coalition, the most common type of seal in the area is the harbor seal.
These creatures migrate from Maine and Canada to the warmer coastal waters surrounding Massachusetts from October to May. For this reason, winter is the best time for seal-watching in Buzzards Bay.
Wildlife watchers should look for seals on rocky shores and coastal beaches. They can be found from Demarest Lloyd State Park in Dartmouth to Woods Hole on Cape Cod.
Seals may also haul themselves onto piers or harbors such as the New Bedford Harbor. Gull Island is another well-known seal-watching spot. The best time to look for them is during a mid-day low tide.
As its name suggests, there is no shortage of birds in the Buzzards Bay area. However, the bay’s name likely comes from colonists misidentifying local osprey as buzzards. Osprey may still be seen around Buzzards Bay.
In fact, according to the Buzzards Bay Coalition, these birds have seen an incredible resurgence in numbers worldwide over the past 50 years. This is due to cleaner water, less contaminated fish, and efforts from groups of people dedicated to building and protecting nest sites for ospreys.
Other birds visitors may spot in the area include:
- American wigeon
- Common eider
- Common goldeneye
- Greater scaup
- Green-winged teal
- Horned lark
- Purple sandpiper
- Red-breasted merganser
- Snow bunting
- Surf scoter
- White-winged scoter
Vernal pools pop up in the woods surrounding Buzzards Bay each spring. These seasonal wetlands soon team with amphibians such as frogs and salamanders.
These two creatures typically migrate to vernal pools in the spring in order to mate and lay eggs, according to Sea Coast Online. The pools are an ideal environment because they are free from fish, which prey on amphibian eggs.
A variety of mammals live in the Buzzards Bay region. Spring is one of the best times of the year for wildlife viewing, as it is baby season for a number of mammals. Foxes make their home in the Buzzards Bay area and kits are born between March and May.
In areas such as the Great Neck Wildlife Sanctuary, you may also spot mammals such as deer, squirrels, rabbits, and more.
You can find a number of wildlife in Buzzards Bay, from fish of all sizes to sharks, whales, and seals. The surrounding area is also home to mammals like deer foxes and amphibians breeding in vernal pools. Finally, the skies above Buzzards Bay are teeming with birds from osprey to scoter.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © danlogan/iStock via Getty Images
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