The thousands of sharks congregating off the Florida coast today offer scientists a chance to get up close and study these predators of the Ocean. This is a yearly event for the blacktip sharks and scientists have watched this migration from the air for several years. In the last couple of years they’ve taken to boats tagging the creatures so they can monitor their migration patterns more closely.
MSN News reports on February 15 that scientists have already found some fascinating aspects about these sharks to share. Scientists are quick to mention that no one has ever died from the bite of a blacktip shark, according to the data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Stephen Kajiura of Florida Atlantic University suggests, “The sharks are not out to get you, and if they wanted to bite you, there would be ample opportunity. But in this clear water, they can easily see you’re a human, not a fish.”
Kajiura also said that these sharks are “skittish” and probably more afraid of humans than humans are afraid of them. The blacktip sharks offer up a unique opportunity to study because they migrate in such large numbers so close to the shoreline.
So far Kajiura has tagged 32 sharks, according to ABC News, but he is hoping to have 60 tagged during this migration. With 60 sharks tagged and monitored, Kajiura and his team can “observe where exactly the sharks go in their migration pattern.”
For instance this year they’ve learned that the sharks are migrating near Palm Beach, when they usually migrate further south in the area of Miami-Dade and Ft. Lauderdale. Why they didn’t make it further south is unknown, but Kajiura suggests they may have found what they were looking for off Palm Beach this year, so “why not stay.” He is hoping that by tagging the sharks they will be able to understand why they stayed off the shores of Palm Beach this year.
In recent years when returning north from their Florida migration, these shark schools have been found as far north as Long Island. They have moved further and further north since scientist have been watching them from the air.
While blacktip sharks have been found as far north as Massachusetts, these are usually the stragglers that strayed from the migration for some reason, like getting caught up in the ocean current. When migrating off the Florida coast only male sharks have been found in the “southern reaches of Florida.”
The reason for this is not known, but temperature plays into the factor as only part of this equation, according to Conservation Officer John Richardson of the UK’s Shark Trust. Richardson said: “The temperature decreases, so perhaps that drives the blacktip sharks’ prey further south, leading the predators to follow. But also correlated with changing temperatures is the shifting day length. It’s impossible to tease it all apart.”