What do you do when a shark follows you home? Another hammerhead experience in island waters

July 6, 2021
By Marcy Shortuse

BY MARCY SHORTUSE – On Friday, June 18 Dianne Ryan and her daughter, Robin Ryan, decided to do things a bit differently when it came time to their regular paddleboard excursion. The pair were used to taking their boards to local Sarasota waters, where Dianne has a condo, but that day they decided to head to Boca Grande. That was where they met a new friend, in the Gulf waters just off 19th Street.

That friend was an approximately 14-foot-long hammerhead shark, and the experience was memorable … to say the least.

“We put in at 19th  Street in the Gulf, paddling down to Pass,” Dianne said. “On the way back was when he saw it. It was a down winder, an easy paddle, and I was doing yoga all the way back. Robin was out in front of me. Tarpon were rolling everywhere, but we hadn’t seen any dolphin yet.”

Not far from their destination Dianne saw what she thought was a dolphin, but when it came up, she just saw the tip of fin. It didn’t look right to her, at least not like a dolphin.

“Then I saw it was a shark, but thought it was a small one,” she said. “At that time I only saw the tip of fin. When I saw the full dorsal fin come out of the water, it was about three feet tall. It was out in front of me, speeding up, and I realized then it was tracking her. It was tracking my daughter, and it was catching up to her quickly.”

Dianne tried to get Robin’s attention, but at first she didn’t hear her. Nearby boaters saw what was going on and said to Robin, “It’s a 14-footer and it’s chasing you!”

Dianne and the boaters were trying to signal Robin as calmly as possible about the large shark right next to her, but they didn’t want to startle her and make her fall off the board. Soon enough Robin realized what was going on, but fear wasn’t her first emotion. She was excited. As an avid photographer, of course Robin’s first thought was to sit down on the board and grab her camera.

That was when the hammerhead flipped around and went under her board the first time,” Dianne said. “Then it flipped again very close to the board, but it didn’t touch it. The water swished the board, it was so close. Then it went under her again and swam off. I kept yelling, “He’s circling you!” But she’s a shark enthusiast so she loved it.

Robin lives in Dallas, where she is an animal trainer at the Dallas Zoo. Because we have several types of hammerhead sharks in our waters, she shared her photos with her contacts who know sharks to see what kind it was. They told her it was a great hammerhead.

Needless to say, this was a first for both Dianne, who spends most of her time in The Hamptons, and for Robin. They are both experienced paddleboarders, and had rented from Englewood SUP that day, thinking it would be a quiet day on the water to see some wildlife and relax. While it was a great day, it wasn’t necessarily relaxing at the end.

“There’s nothing like watching a fin that big, on a shark that big, tracking your daughter,” Dianne said.

While we have sharks in our local waters all of the time, particularly in the summer time, this year we have seen a bit more shark action than usual (we reported just two weeks ago about a hammerhead who came on shore, probably while feeding on sting rays, and was captured on film surrounded by a crowd of onlookers). This being said, please remember not to swim at night. Not only is it a peak shark feeding time, in the darkness of the water the sharks can’t tell that you’re a human (some say it matters to them, as humans aren’t the best tasting food in the Gulf) and will take a friendly bite to identify what type of meat you are made of. Not to mention, Boca Grande beaches are a very popular spot for shark fishermen, who often chum the waters while they are fishing.