■ BY MARCY SHORTUSE
This is the third part of a three-part series about the sharks that swim in our waters, especially during tarpon season. This part includes information regarding the sharks that most commonly swim along our shores.
When you hear people talking about the amount of sharks in Boca Grande Pass during tarpon season, you might think it isn’t safe to swim in our waters … but that isn’t really the case.
This three-part series has been meant as an education tool, nothing more. Most of the sharks we have on our coast do not include people on their menu, with the exception of one that is becoming more and more prominent.
And by the way, those great white shark sightings you hear about? Those handsome ladies and gentlemen normally stay at least 20 miles off our shore, but they are fun to track at ocearth.org.
A common shark around Gasparilla Island is the bull shark. This stout, muscular little fellow who appears to be darker gray on top with a white belly has a bit of a bad reputation, as he isn’t afraid to investigate anything in the water. These sharks have even been known to travel miles and miles inland up coastal river systems. He has a fatter, slightly shorter dorsal fin than some sharks, and can be a bit territorial and aggressive at times. This is due to the fact that of all the sharks, they have more testosterone than most (yes, like an angry teenager), and because they doggedly pursue their prey. They also have a stronger bite than many sharks.
None of this means you will definitely be bitten by one, but please don’t jump in the Pass during tarpon season to find out.
Nurse sharks are brown to yellowish in color, with a very short nose and small eyes. You will rarely see their fin in the water, as they are bottom feeders and are often seen motionless on the sandy bottom. They normally aren’t a threat to humans at all.
Hammerheads are those funny-looking guys with anvils for faces, with taller dorsal fins, longer bodies and longer tail fins. While the tale of “Old Hitler” out in the Pass tells of a man-eater who used to prowl boats looking for a snack, if he was real he was an anomaly. His favorite foods are tarpon, squid and stingrays.
Bonnetheads are the hammerheads younger brother, as they usually only get to be about 4 1/2 feet long. They have been known to nip at a swimmer or two, but they spit them right back out as they don’t enjoy the taste of humans. Either way, the last bite on island beaches came from a bonnethead (it was definitely not a grave injury and the person had frozen shrimp in their pockets).
Several captains in the Pass and anglers on the beach have been saying lately that tiger Sharks are being spotted more and more in local waters. The tiger shark has a short, blunt nose, vertical stripes that do fade with age, have a blueish or green-gray appearance and can get up to about 16 feet long.Tiger sharks do enjoy a tasty human now and again, so we have to be careful of them.
Blacktip sharks, one of the most common in local waters, are dark blue-gray on their backs and only get to about 6 1/2 feet long. They are quite tasty, and usually don’t mess with people.
Keep in mind, Lee, Collier and Charlotte counties have only recorded about 15 shark encounters since the late 1800s. Just don’t swim with shrimp in your pockets and stay away from Boca Grande Pass, we don’t want to add another one to the list.