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Swarms Of Sharks Passing Through Deerfield Beach
April 8, 2005

Release from: J. Christopher Hain
Palm Beach Post

Sharks seem to be everywhere these days.

Schools of sharks decided to visit Broward County beaches, too. On March 28, they mobbed near Deerfield Beach.

Swarming near shore. Leaping into the air. Closing down beaches from Fort Lauderdale last week to Juno Beach this week. Even attacking spring breakers in made-for-TV movies.

But the truth, biologists say, is that sharks pass by every spring while migrating to their summer homes up North — just like human snowbirds.

Maybe the swarms of blacktip sharks spotted off Palm Beach County shores since mid-March have been a little more numerous. Maybe the sharks are a bit closer. Or maybe the water is just clearer and the photographs more sensational.

But it's a yearly occurrence — whether we notice it or not.

"The absolute parallel with this is human tourists," said George Burgess, a biologist and director of the program for shark research at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville.

"These movements are not confined to sharks. There's lots of smaller fish sitting on the bottom that are doing the same thing — they're just not getting their pictures on TV."

Every fall as Atlantic Ocean waters get colder, the sharks leave their summer homes in places such as Georgia, the Carolinas and even as far north as Chesapeake Bay, Burgess said.

They travel to warmer climes including South Florida, the Bahamas or perhaps the Gulf of Mexico. In the spring, they follow the northward movement of warmer water.

They are sometimes mislabeled as spinner sharks because of their leaps and twists out of the water.

But probably as much as 90 percent of the sharks recently swarming off the South Florida coast are blacktip sharks, Burgess said.

Blacktip sharks generally feed on fish such as mullet, whiting, jacks or ladyfish.

The rare human bite does happen, for example, if a shark confuses a human foot flapping in cloudy water for a fishy snack.

So shutting down beaches for swarms of sharks is probably a good idea, Burgess said.

"These are not your typical shark-attack sharks," he said. "They're more of a hit and run."

Chief Don May of Palm Beach County Ocean Rescue said his lifeguards notice the sharks each year in the spring and fall. But this year, the beach patrols have reported more sharks closer to shore.

"It's not an uncommon phenomenon," he said. "It's just that this spring it seems to be a more pronounced phenomenon than we can remember."

David Snyder, a marine biologist with Continental Shelf Associates in Jupiter, said sharks show up yearly near John D. MacArthur Beach State Park in North Palm Beach.

But this year, they seem to have caught extra attention by congregating elsewhere in shallow, clear waters.

"Whenever the visibility is good, the helicopters go up and get pictures of them," Snyder said. "When they're easily photographed, the spectacle gets bigger."

The sharks began hitting local papers March 16 after dozens of blacktips were spotted near Delray Municipal Beach.

For the next several days, the shark convention closed down beaches in Delray Beach, Lake Worth and Palm Beach.

The following weekend, the sharks hit the airwaves. CBS aired the made-for-TV flick Spring Break Shark Attack.

The movie was set in South Florida (although this fictional Florida coast had mountains) and had swarms of sharks attacking spring breakers.
"Nothing could have been timed more appropriately," Burgess said. "Those suckers in Los Angeles are probably wringing their hands with glee because it probably helped their ratings."

But making TV execs happy wasn't enough for these elasmobranches — the academic term for the class of fish that includes sharks and rays.
Schools of sharks decided to visit Broward County beaches, too. On March 28, they mobbed near Deerfield Beach.
The next day, they briefly closed two stretches of beach in Fort Lauderdale. They also closed Delray beaches again for 2 1/2 hours.

On Tuesday, the sharks closed down five north county beaches. But those beaches were shark-free Wednesday and Thursday. The sharks may finally be moving on.

Once the sharks get away from South Florida, they won't be quite the story.

Waters near the shore won't be as clear in the Daytona Beach or Jacksonville areas. And many sharks will slowly begin to break away from the pack.

"They're going to be out of sight, out of mind — much as they are in most years," Burgess said.

Hundreds Of Sharks Swarm Off South Florida Coast

Dateline: Thursday, March 31, 2005

By: News Editor
Source: msnbc

Someone somewhere will want to go in to “swim with the sharks”, particularly as there probably won’t be any dolphins around to molest instead.

“Beaches in Deerfield were closed to swimmers and surfers on Tuesday after hundreds of migrating sharks were seen swarming close to shore. No injuries have been reported. Chopper 6 spotted hundreds of sharks off Deerfield Beach Tuesday.

The sharks were about 100 to 200 feet away from shore.

City officials closed the beach as a precaution.

Visitors to Deerfield Beach said they were not too enthusiastic about getting back into the water once the beaches are reopened, but they wanted to get a look at the sharks.

Tourist Suzanne Barlyn said her son even wanted to reel a big shark in.

"He stood at the shore for quite some time looking for sharks. We saw some fins at one point," Barlyn said.

Some beachgoers found creative ways, such as building sandcastles, to occupy their time.

Damian Chapman, a shark expert at the Guy Harvey Research Institute, said the sharks off Deerfield Beach are not man-eaters.”


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