More than 10,000 blacktip sharks (Carcharhinus limbatus) have been spotted off the coast of Palm Beach Country in Florida this week.
It’s normal for the species to migrate en masse to warmer waters in the winter months, but this year they’re further north than usual, bringing them within 100 meters of the shoreline, as you can see in this incredible image below.
Yep, ALL those little black specks are sharks.
“It’s not unusual, but it’s great to see them,” shark biologist Stephan Kajiura from Florida Atlantic University told ABC.
“The interesting thing is these sharks are right up against the shoreline. You could stand on the shore and toss a pebble and hit a shark, they’re that close,”he explained to local radio station CBS-12.
That might sound terrifying, but don’t panic — blacktip sharks are probably more scared of you than you are of them. The species doesn’t grow much longer than 1.5 meters, and although they’re responsible for the highest number of human attacks each year in Florida, they’ve never bitten anyone fatally.
“For the most part, if you look historically, we have relatively few bites on people by blacktips in this area,” said Kajiura. “[T]hese sharks are really skittish, so when you get in the water, they’re going to scatter and go away.”
He added that, as long as they follow instructions from lifeguards and take regular precautions such as avoiding swimming at dusk and dawn, swimmers don’t need to avoid the water.
What he’s more interested in is why the blacktips have decided to stay near Palm Beach this year, rather than venturing further south the Miami-Dade and Ft. Lauderdale area. The sharks are also a little later than usual, with the species normally showing up in the area in mid-January.
There’s speculation that this shift could be triggered by El Niño keeping the East Coast unseasonably warm at the end of last year, as well as ocean temperatures increasing further from the equator.
“One of the ideas may be that as they are getting south, if they are in a suitable habitat, then why not stay,” said Kajiura.
To try to figure this out, Kajiura is non-invasively tagging the blacktips, so that he can track where they’re going throughout the year and how they’re behaving.
A photo posted by Sharkmigration (@sharkmigration) on
He’s already tagged 32 individuals, and wants to tag 60 in total to try to figure out the species’ migration patterns, and how they’re changing.
Either way, it’s a pretty incredible sight to see such beautiful creatures chilling out alongside humans. You’re welcome at beaches near us anytime, guys.