Residents on Longboat Key in Sarasota, Florida, are used to seeing various aquatic species in their backyard canals. Still, the view they saw last week was unlike anything they'd seen before - and scientists believe it's due to the red tide bloom that's affecting the region.
Sharks began to arrive in droves in the canals around Buttonwood Harbor. They ranged in size and species from bonnethead sharks to blacktip sharks to nurse sharks to lemon sharks.
There may be hundreds, if not thousands, of sharks, according to some locals.
Longboat Key resident John Wagman said, "You noticed fins at first just like popping out, and then you'd look down the canal and with a little bit of daylight, you just saw more and more, and you were like, 'Oh, that's not good."
Longboat Key resident Janelle Branower said there were so many sharks that she could have walked across the canal on their backs.
Attracting the Local's Curiosity
Residents of Longboat Key began calling Mote Marine Laboratory experts early last week. They headed out on their own to look into it.
Why did so many sharks wind up in the same place? According to Jack Morris, a senior scientist with Mote's Sharks and Rays Research Program, it's because of the worsening red tide.
"When the red tide comes around, the animals don't like it, so they seek locations where the red tide isn't there. It just so happened to be the canal where these individuals reside in this case," Morris explained. "They're basically trying to dodge the red tide by taking refuge in these canals in this estuary."
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the red tide continues to be present in high quantities off the coast of Longboat Key and in medium concentrations in Sarasota Bay.
Red Tide in the Region
Morris was queried by WFLA about the prospects for sharks taking refuge in the canals. He warned that it might be a bad situation.
"As long as there is a persistent red tide in the region, it will keep them contained in the canals that aren't affected by the red tide. They will run out of food and energy if this goes on for long enough. Unfortunately, some, if not all, of them may perish," Morris stated.
How the Red Tide Affects Sharks
Sharks are being pushed from their natural homes around Sarasota Bay, according to Mote experts. Researchers intend to keep a close eye on the canals' status.
According to Bob Hueter, the cause is red tide. He is the head scientist of Ocearch, an organization that tracks diverse animals to collect data on sea life.
Sharks, according to Hueter, are just as vulnerable to the red tide as any other species. In addition, they will ultimately run out of oxygen if they become stuck beneath the algae.
On the other hand, Sharks are a little more mobile than the typical fish, so they can swim away when they spot a bloom. The difficulty is that this can cause them to become trapped in back bays and canals, as Hueter claims scientists are witnessing now.
Hueter says, "They're searching for any location to get away from the crimson flood."
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