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During migration, sharks tend to travel close to shore, but don't worry—shark attacks on humans are extremely rare. (David Fleetham / Nature Picture Library)

Sharks on the Horizon?

Thousands of sharks swarm Florida waters earlier than usual

By Jennifer Marino Walters | June 28 , 2013
<p>Spinner sharks are known for leaping out of the water and spinning in the air. (Ronald C. Modra / Sports Imagery / Getty Images) </p>

Spinner sharks are known for leaping out of the water and spinning in the air. (Ronald C. Modra / Sports Imagery / Getty Images)

Each year in the spring and early summer, thousands of sharks pass through Florida waters. These sharks migrate north along the east coast of the U.S. after having spent the winter in warmer southern waters. (Migration is the movement of animals from one place to another.) Floridians have come to expect the sharks’ annual visit.

But this year, the sharks surprised Florida residents and visitors by migrating earlier than usual—during spring break. Many southern Florida beaches were closed to swimmers in early March when as many as 15,000 sharks turned up in coastal waters from Boca Raton to Jupiter.

“They were practically right on the sand,” lifeguard supervisor Craig Pollock told reporters. “They were frenzied and chasing bait all the way up to shore.”

Experts believe the migration happened earlier than usual because of warmer weather and water temperatures.

MASS MIGRATION

The sharks that were part of the migration were mainly blacktip sharks and spinner sharks. These species are known for leaping out of the water and spinning in the air as they search for smaller fish to eat.

During a migration, as many as 1,000 sharks can be in a 0.4-square-mile area. Someone swimming in nearby water may be only 60 feet from a shark at any given point!

Some of the sharks continue migrating up the east coast, but many remain in the warm Florida waters for the summer. George Burgess, director of the University of Florida’s Florida Program for Shark Research, estimates that there are tens of thousands of them present during the summer months. Though the sharks travel close to shore during their migration, they typically remain in deeper waters when they are not migrating.

NOT A BIG THREAT

More than 13 shark species are common in Florida waters. They range in size from only a few feet to more than 40 feet long. But they are typically not a threat to humans: Most of them prey on fish and other marine life. Shark attacks on humans remain very rare, with 26 reported in Florida last year.

In fact, humans are a greater threat to sharks than sharks are to humans. Thirty million to 70 million sharks are killed each year in fisheries. The spinner shark—hunted for its meat and fins—is listed as “near threatened” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List.

“A shark attack … is extremely uncommon,” says Burgess, “considering the millions of hours humans spend in the water each year.”

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