Tens of thousands of blacktip sharks are hanging out off Florida shores from Palm Beach to the Jupiter Inlet according to a report from the Tampa Bay Times. The Florida Atlantic University Shark Migration project recently posted a video recorded from about 500 feet above the waters that shows the sharks. Take a look below.
Yes, all of those dots are sharks. Tens of thousands of sharks. Every week since mid-December, Dr. Stephen Kajiura, a biological sciences professor at the Florida Atlantic University, has performed an aerial survey of the sharks with his students, observing the Florida coastline from Palm Beach to the Jupiter Inlet and documenting their observations, in anticipation of the annual migration of blacktip sharks. Commenting on the vast number of sharks and their proximity to the Florida shores, Kajiura said, “You can really, literally, stand on shore and toss a pebble and hit a shark.”
The large number of sharks in the area isn’t a new phenomenon. Every year, they migrate to this area. Dr. Kaijura explains that as the temperature of Florida waters rises, blacktip sharks migrate from their more northern location. The sharks prefer temperatures between 69 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit. What is different this year, however, is the timing of their migration. Typically, sharks begin appearing in the Palm Beach area of Florida’s coastline in mid-January. They weren’t observed in the area until February this year. Dr. Kaijura says this may be due to global warming. Ocean waters are warmer overall, which could mean that sharks didn’t feel the need to migrate south until later in the year than usual. What he can’t explain is why the sharks choose this area.
This is the fifth year of the doctor’s study of the migration of sharks to this area of Florida. He has been aware of and curious about the behavior for years, but in 2011 he was offered research funding and he and his students have been diligently working to understand the annual trek of the sharks ever since. Last year they tagged five sharks with geolocating transmitters. They hope to tag 25 sharks this year. One student gets the task of counting all the sharks, quite a daunting task.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that although blacktip sharks account for a majority of shark bites in Florida, there has never been a fatal attack by them in the region. According to the ClearwaterPatch, the number of unprovoked shark attacks hit a record high of 98 in 2015. The previous record was 88 and was set in 2000. Of the 98 unprovoked attacks, 30 happened in Florida. That number is not the state’s record. The highest number of unprovoked shark attacks Florida has ever had in a year was 37 in 2000. Their 2015 count does put them at the top of the list of states for the occurrences with North Carolina coming in second with eight unprovoked shark attacks. The only state that had a fatality related to an unprovoked shark attack in 2015 was Hawaii. Five others happened outside the U.S.
Live Science states that blacktip sharks grow to about six-and-a-half feet (two meters) in length and spend the summer months around Georgia and the Carolinas. During this time, they mate and give birth to pups. Kajiura told Live Science that he puts the count of blacktip sharks near the shore at 10,000 to 12,000, but that is only a portion of all the sharks that migrate to the Palm Beach area each year. It includes only those that are visible in that small band of water. It is a “gross underestimate” of total sharks in the area. When he and his team fly over the area, the shore is on one side of the plane from which they view the sharks. He explains,
“We see lots more sharks on the other side of the plane, so there’s a lot more out there that we’re simply not counting in the survey. We simply don’t know how big this school is, how far it extends off into deeper water.”
[Photo by LexyK/Shutterstock]