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Meet and Greet: The Sharks of Palm Beach

Active/Outdoors, Florida — By NileGuide Staff on August 4, 2009 at 9:27 am

Most television viewers know this already, but today marks the second day of the Discovery Channel’s famous “shark week.” There’s a lot of information to be had, whether it’s a program that focuses on famous attacks, infested waters or all the ways in which the movie Jaws was wrong. But why sit on your sofa, soda in hand, when you could be in Palm Beach‘s sunny waters, meeting one of these incredible creatures face-to-face?

When it comes to seeing sharks in the wild, few places are better than Palm Beach. With a wide variety of species, warm waters and guided, professional tours (some excellent companies include Jim Abernethy’s Scuba Adventures, Shark Bookings and The Dolphin Dream Team). Read on for a list of just what kinds of sharks you can expect to see in Palm Beach.

The Average Joe: The Caribbean Reef Shark

This is the most common shark in Palm Beach, both in numbers and in seasons. They can be seen year-round and are especially populous in Shark Canyon, where they are an important part of a fascinating reef ecosystem (one that is also rich with turtles, tropical fish and eels). They also fit most people’s stereotype of what a shark “should” look like, with a sleek body, a rounded snout and fins that taper to elegant points.

Average Joe’s Cousin: The Blacktip Reef Shark

Although they’re often mistaken for the more common Caribbean Reef Shark, Blacktips have, well, black tips on the ends of their fins. They also have a pointier snout and a slimmer body than the Caribbean Reef Shark, and can be found almost worldwide. Interesting fact: its body will bend into an “S” shape if it feels threatened. If you can’t tell the difference between the two, don’t worry – just say you went swimming with a “reef shark” and people will probably be impressed regardless.

The Body Builder: The Bull Shark

These poor guys come with a reputation for being aggressive, but (as scuba divers can attest) are actually quite shy. With significantly more bulk than other shark species, small eyes and a distinct lack of neck, these are the “body builders” of the sea. You’ll be lucky to see one on a dive, since few are curious enough to approach humans for a closer look. Nevertheless, they are responsible for some attacks and should be treated with caution.

The Friendly Giant: The Nurse Shark

These mellow sharks are also found in Palm Beach‘s popular Shark Canyon. A few friendly ones here often approach divers, hoping for a gentle scratch on their back. With a huge dorsal fin, light tan coloring and wing-like pectoral fins, their distinctive shape helps them stand out from other sharks. They spend the daylight hours lying on the bottom of shallow waters and reefs, and come out at night to feed on octopi, crabs, fish, lobsters and shrimp. They grow to 9-10 feet in length.

The Trashcan: The Tiger Shark

Known as the “wastebasket of the sea,” the Tiger shark eats everything from birds to fish to license plates, regardless of nutritional value. The dark stripes across its back make it easily recognizable and good thing, too – Tiger Sharks are considered one of the sharks most dangerous to humans (after Great Whites and Oceanic Whitetips). They’re fairly aggressive, and are attracted to shallow waters close to shorelines and beaches. Adults are 11-17 feet in length.

The Newcomer: The Lemon Shark

This species was discovered quite recently, in 2000, but recent years have seen higher and higher numbers of them migrating to northern Palm Beach. While scientists try to puzzle out why they’re moving there in such large numbers, visitors can take special trips to view these unique animals. They get their name from their light coloring, and have a pointy snout, small eyes and can reach over 10 feet in length.

The Showoff: The Spinner Shark

With a longer snout but a shorter length (6 feet or less), Spinner Sharks look like Blacktips but are known for their acrobatics. When feeding on schools of fish, they speed through the school, then jump and spin out of the water (similar to a Spinner dolphin). They migrate down the coast by the thousands, and can be seen in large schools between November and April. Sightings of these sharks are rather rare, and viewing their antics even more so.

The VIP: The Great Hammerhead

What’s the difference between a normal Hammerhead shark and a Great Hammerhead? The Greats are bigger (up to 18 feet in length) and have a sickle-shaped dorsal fin. They also love to eat stingrays, but other bony fish will do in a pinch. These sharks tend to travel in groups of 5 or less, and to see one is a rarity and a privilege. Fall and winter months are the best time to see them in Palm Beach, especially along the reefs. Special expeditions can be booked specifically to see one of these imposing animals in the wild.

The Land Lubbers: The Palm Beach Sharks Football Club

Based out of Palm Beach in Queensland, Australia, this breed of shark is a rare sight in Florida. However, you can occasionally see these magnificent animals relaxing on the beach or kicking a ball around, much in the style of American soccer players. You’ll recognize them by their blue face paint and opposable thumbs.

Caribbean Reef Shark photo by mhedstrom, Blacktip Shark photo by akalat, Bull Shark photo by Jeff Kubina (AllĀ  Creative Commons), Tiger Shark photo courtesy of the Liverpool Daily Post, Lemon Shark photo courtesy of Kids3d, Spinner Shark photo courtesy of Picklo Net, Great Hammerhead photo courtesy of DSC Discovery, Bull Shark photo courtesy of Trekking Around

Tags: blacktip shark, bull shark, hammerhead, lemon shark, nurse shark, reef shark, shark, spinner shark, tiger shark

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