BY MARCY SHORTUSE AND JACK SHORT – We’ve been famous before for having one of the most expensive zip codes, and for having some of the best beaches. We’ve got celebrity status for many reasons here on Gasparilla Island, and now we’ve got a new reason to be chatted up on the Today Show and in the morning dailies – sharks.
According to a USA Today article that was released on July 7, Gasparilla Island State Park is first on the list for beaches that sharks frequent and, more specifically, where you can see sharks from the shore.
Even though the last shark encounter on Gasparilla Island was in 2005 at the south end by the Lighthouse, shark fever has hit. If you have seen a few television news vans on the island this week, now you know why. This story was picked up by the local NBC affiliate out of Fort Myers and they sent a crew out. During the television interview with fishermen on the Gasparilla Island Fishing Pier at the north end of the island they even spotted a tiny fin in the water. How’s that for timing?
Quoted in the segment about Gasparilla Island State Park is Dr. Bob Hueter, vice president of research at Mote Marine Laboratory, who said that spring and early summer bring large bull sharks and great hammerheads to Boca Grande Pass to feed on tarpon.
In a private interview with the Boca Beacon, Hueter said he had no idea his interview with USA Today would lead to such nation-wide coverage. He said the reporter asked for a list of places to see sharks and he gave them three – Englewood Beach in the winter to see sandbar sharks in the surf, Boca Grande and Sebastian Inlet.
“I hope the Boca Grande Chamber of Commerce is OK with that,” he said, half-jokingly.
Regarding risk to humans, he said, knowing their food habits and sensory systems (which he studied earlier in his career) and looking at patterns of encounters, “it’s clear we’re not on their menu.” The reason people get bitten is because paths cross, and, if you put enough people in the water, that’s bound to happen.
But bull sharks are more worrisome, he said. When a shark fatality in Florida occurs, Hueter said bull sharks are usually the suspect. They’re “bull”-ies, so to speak.
He won’t take sides in the argument about shark fishing and who has more rights between swimmers and fishermen, but he said, “you can’t mix fishing and swimming,” adding that recent incidents in North Carolina occurred “not very far from piers where people are putting a lot of bait in the water.”
Other places on the list include:
- El Porto, Manhattan Beach, Calif.
- Seal Beach, Calif.
- Mossel Bay, South Africa
- Delray Beach and Boca Raton, Fla.
- Little Ship Cay, Exumas, Bahamas
- Coral Bay and Fish Bay, St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands
- Nauset Beach, Coast Guard Beach and Race Point Beach, Cape Cod, Mass.
- Sebastian Inlet State Park, Fla.
- Surf Beach, Calif.
But we were first.
The article also quotes Jeff Kurr, a filmmaker for the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week (July 5 – 11), who said in the past 25 years of swimming with sharks – even with bait in the water – they really had no interest in him, and that a majority of shark encounters with humans are accidental.
It hasn’t seemed to bother any of the visitors lining the beaches this week, but it was a little unnerving to those on the beach to watch people swimming after sunset while watching the fireworks on the Fourth of July.
If you want to do your best to stay away from sharks in our waters, you have to put yourself in the mind of the shark. After all, he’s just a finned guy trying to make a living out there.
Here are some tips:
- Avoid swimming at sunrise and after sunset, when sharks love to feed
- Don’t swim in Boca Grande Pass
- Take off shiny jewelry that could reflect in the water prior to swimming