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They're back

Up North, April showers bring May flowers. But here in the Sunshine State, the fifth month of the year marks the return of bull sharks. These fearsome predators, named for their large heads and unpleasant disposition, are the undisputed heavyweight champions of Florida waters. While they may not be responsible for the most attacks overall on humans, bull sharks are the culprits in most fatal encounters with swimmers.

Here, there, everywhere

Many consider the bull to be the most dangerous shark in the world. This species can live for long periods in freshwater and has been found more than 2,000 miles up the Amazon, and in landlocked bodies of water, such as Lake Nicaragua.

Bulls like shallow water and have been implicated in a number of unprovoked attacks, including several in the Tampa Bay area. A 300-pound bull shark swimming across a shallow grass flat is enough to unnerve even veteran sport fishermen.

The real Jaws

A bull shark may have been responsible for attacks that occurred on the New Jersey coast in the summer of 1916, when four people died over 12 days. Three of those fatal attacks occurred in a shallow tidal river called Matawan Creek, more than 10 miles from the open ocean. Author Peter Benchley later based his bestselling novel Jaws on the infamous summer.

Tampa Bay bulls

Bulls and several other species of sharks use Tampa Bay as a major nursery area during the spring and summer months. It is not uncommon for fishermen to catch, or snag, large bull sharks full of pups during May. The fish have no value as table fare, but their jaws fetch top dollar from collectors who value such oddities. While frowned upon by most conservation-minded anglers, killing bulls for their jaws is not illegal.

Worst-case scenario

Your chances of being attacked by a bull shark are slim, and even slimmer if you faithfully follow our tips. But these creatures, like all wild animals, are unpredictable — particularly because they have more testosterone than any other species on earth. If you find yourself in the grasp of this beast, fight back. Strike the eyes and gills with any hard object, including your fists. But don't count on winning.

Gators vs. sharks

When comparing dangerous animals, alligators beat sharks, hands down. Florida had 18 fatal gator attacks from 1948 to 2005, compared with nine fatal shark attacks during the same time period.

1 in 11.5 million

Odds of a shark attack on a human

Play it safe

• Avoid swimming near the mouths of rivers or bays, areas favored by bull sharks.

• Do not swim near schools of baitfish. Bull sharks may be nearby.

• When spearfishing, be ready to drop your catch. Bull sharks are attracted by speared fish.

• Avoid swimming at night or early in the morning, when sharks are most active.

Sources: International Shark Attack File in Gainesville, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, University of Florida, Mote Marine Laboratory


Bull sharks

SPECIES: Carcharhinus leucas.

Habitat: Oceans and bays, but will also swim hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of miles up freshwater rivers.

Diet: Everything from dolphin to sea birds.

Size/Age: Maximum length is 11 feet. They can live for more than 20 years.

Human factors: One of the most dangerous shark species. Responsible for roughly one out of every five shark attacks in Florida.

They're back 05/15/11 [Last modified: Sunday, May 15, 2011 8:54pm]
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© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


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