Sunday, July 21, 2019

I Think We Need a Bigger Boat!

Stepping Stones

Photo by Cathy McConville | In addition to bull sharks, the tiger shark has been seen in south Collier County waters, in areas just beyond Caxambas Pass.

Ahhh, it’s Valentines week and love is in the air. All around the globe humans are acting as if they were smitten by love for the very first time. “I love you, my itsy, bitsy baby.” “No, I love you more” is the reply. “No, I love YOU more, my little cuddle kitten.” Even some of the animal kingdom seem to catch this once-a-year human regression.

But love IS in the air very soon for many of our animals. Spring mating rituals will be taking place and many of our migratory visitors will be returning to their nesting grounds soon. Other migrations further south will be arriving here for the mating and nesting seasons, like the least terns and the swallow-tailed kites. Even in the area waters romance is blossoming very, very soon.

Some of the creatures lurking just off of our coastline will be making their way into the shallow, warmer waters for their mating rites. Those animals are talked about constantly and quite often the subject of controversial conversations: SHARKS!

Considered to be the third most dangerous shark in the world, right behind the great whites and the tiger sharks, are bull sharks. They enjoy climate such as we find in Southwest Florida, living offshore but coming into our estuaries for mating and producing young.

They are here because of their food sources. Bull sharks will feast on bony fish, dolphins, smaller sharks, birds, crustaceans and more. Quite often they will bump into their prey and then bite it. They will consume large amounts of prey when an abundance of food is available, so they are very opportunistic.

Bull sharks are viviparous, which means they produce live young. Once they have mated, the birthing of new pups will occur about 10-11 months later. These young are born in our estuaries, where salt water meets fresh water. Just over two feet long at birth, they will feed and grow in the estuarine waters until they are large enough to defend themselves in deeper waters. They will not reach maturity until they are about 10 years old. Their lifespan is 12 to 18 years old, so they are only fully mature for a short period of their lives.

So, yes, love will be in the air very soon, bringing some fearsome predators to our shorelines. But are they really that dangerous here?

Even though they are the third most dangerous shark to humans around the planet, our home area seems very docile.

In the 136 years that records have been kept in South Florida, less than 10 bites have occurred on humans in Collier County with no deaths. Most attacks are a matter of mistaken identity. A shark may bump a human, take a nip and realize that this prey is not on their menu.

As a postscript, there was a recent sighting of a great white shark passing off our shoreline. Great whites have a large migration range and it is not uncommon to have them travel from the North Atlantic to the Florida Panhandle. You can go to Ocearch.org and see the tracking habits of several tagged great whites. Should you be worried about “Jaws” cruising our area? There simply isn’t enough food to keep them near our shorelines for a period of time. They are just passing by… or maybe we should think about that bigger boat!

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