Shark sightings close several beaches in Palm Beach County


Palm Beach Post

Stand on a Palm Beach County beach these days and you’ll likely see sharks close to shore, some up to seven feet long, some jumping out of the water chasing prey.

Sightings of these spinner and blacktip sharks have closed county beaches this week from Singer Island to Boca Raton.

But for those considering taking advantage of predicted lovely beach weather this weekend, have no fear: No one has died from a shark attack in Palm Beach County since tracking of attacks began more than 130 years ago.

Still, Gail Holland, who was enjoying Ocean Reef Park in Riviera Beach on Thursday during her visit from Boston, wasn’t taking any chances.

“I am definitely not gonna go in the water,” she said. “But that doesn’t deprive me of the vacation at all, I enjoy the walk on the beach, the sunshine and beautiful scenery . ..”

The shark sightings are not unusual. Like frost-bitten tourists escaping the cold, these sharks, among other species, head south for the winter.

Since late December, the sharks have gathered in the warm waters off Florida’s southeastern coast as part of their annual migration from southern New England.

“Their migration happens in the winter months, usually the same time that tourists are here,” Palm Beach County Ocean Rescue Capt. Julia Leo said. “We see them most often in January and February. They’re coming down and following their prey, which is either mullet or Spanish mackerel.”

The sharks, which like to jump out of the water, typically ride the waves on the shore break, Riviera Beach lifeguard Eddie Green said.

He noted the sharks stay about 10 to 15 yards offshore, in shallow water.

That pattern is not unusual, said George Burgess, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville.

“Many sharks are found virtually into ankle-deep water during the day,” he said.

Humans are, too, which would seem ominous for beachgoers. Yet statistics show that shark attacks in Florida are rare.

Between 1882 and 2012 there were 663 confirmed, unprovoked shark attacks in Florida, according to the International Shark Attack File compiled by the Florida Museum of Natural History. Of those attacks, 11 were fatal.

“If sharks really wanted to go after humans as a food item, injuries and death would be measured in the thousands per year instead of the four deaths we see each year worldwide,’’ Burgess said.

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