A Fort Pierce man said he captured a remarkable wildlife encounter Monday: a bobcat emerging from the surf near Sebastian Inlet with a shark in its jaws.
But the photo that made the evening news before spiraling onto the Internet inevitably raised questions over its authenticity.
“I can appreciate that,” said John Bailey, a Fort Pierce sales rep who said he initially thought he’d walked up on a dog in the surf as he was strolling down the beach between 6:30 and 7 p.m. Monday. Bailey said he watched the bobcat wade through the water, then pounce and stride out of the water with the shark in its mouth.
Using his iPhone, he said he was able to snap one quick picture before the bobcat dropped the shark and took off for nearby brush. The entire encounter lasted just seconds, he said.
Florida wildlife officials who looked at the picture said they had no reason to suspect it was fake. But in several Internet postings, people asked: Real or Photoshop? And long shadows also raise questions.
Bailey, in a phone interview with the Miami Herald, said he couldn’t remember exactly where he was in Sebastian Inlet State Park, an area just north of Vero Beach with a long ocean-side sandy beach. The angle of the strong shadows suggest that for the picture to have been shot in the evening at sunset, the bobcat would have to have been on the western, Indian River side of the park. But that inland area has only a few patches of sandy beach along the inlet and the river. Bailey said he couldn’t recall if he was walking north or south, just that the beach was on his left.
“Had I realized I was going to stumble onto something like that, I probably would have been aware of my surroundings,’’ he said. Bailey said he had gone to the beach “just to clear my head.”
Bobcats, the closest relative of the Florida panther but far smaller and with a namesake bobbed tail, have been spotted near area beaches in the past. But the normally shy felines typically move about at night and are notoriously elusive. They don’t fear water, unlike some wild cats, and have been known to take a dip in search of food. They typically eat small mammals like rats and rabbits, but wildlife biologist Robert King said increasing development in the area may have driven out prey, forcing the cats to expand their menu.
“Would they go into the surf and pull out a shark? Darn right they would,” said King, who studied bobcats in the Everglades in the 1980s. “Unless it’s been photo-shopped, I believe it.”
Bailey said he never imagined the shot would turn into Internet fodder.
“It’s kind of been a shock,” he said. “I didn’t think it was that rare, but I guess it is.”