Wednesday, November 22, 2017
Outdoors

Marine Quest: Feed a thirsty mind

RECOMMENDED READING


ST. PETERSBURG — At all of my speaking engagements — and it doesn't matter if I am talking to second-graders or Shriners — the conversation usually turns to alligators and sharks.

Both have teeth. Both can be dangerous. And both are great discussion topics, especially when I run out of things to say.

"How fast can an alligator run?" I'm often asked.

"Not as fast as me," I always reply.

Some may disagree. If you've lived in Florida as long as I have, you've probably heard that an alligator can run as fast as a horse. Not true.

How do I know? The answer is simple: personal experience. Once, on Cumberland Island off the Georgia coast, I was chased by an alligator and a wild horse in the same day and lived to tell the tale.

But sharks … they are far more mysterious.

"How many teeth does a shark have," a youngster recently asked.

"I have no idea," I replied. "And I don't plan on trying to count them."

And while I'm what my wife likes to call "an endless repository of not-necessarily insignificant trivia," there are many subjects that I leave to the professionals.

One such topic is the fascinating world of batoid fishes, which are more commonly known as the skates and rays. Take, for example, the cownose ray, which, when seen schooling along local beaches during the spring and summer, sends swimmers out of the water.

If those uneducated souls had been to Marine Quest, they would know that these creatures are harmless. The ones you have to watch out for, I've come to learn, are the ones you can't see.

The primary villain, the Atlantic stingray, is one of the smaller species in local waters. This species is responsible for most of the "stings" or "hits" on beachgoers.

Don't worry. The rays you see in "touch tanks," such as the one on display at this weekend's free Marine Quest in St. Petersburg, have had their spines clipped.

The educational fair, an open house for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, is a great place to pick up lots of great water cooler chit-chat, such as my previously mentioned alligator anecdotes or this interesting factoid: All rays have "spines," which most people mistakenly call "barbs," that are razor-sharp and range in length from 1 to 10 inches.

But Marine Quest has more than touch tanks full of batoids. Nature lovers can also learn about a variety of other marine-related issues, such as how to properly catch and release fish to increase their chance of survival.

My favorite exhibit is the reptile and amphibian booth, where you can learn, once and for all, how to distinguish an alligator from a crocodile. Hint: It has nothing to do with how fast they run. And while you're there, get up close and personal with a 100-pound snapping turtle.

Those with strong stomachs might also find the ecology and fish biology exhibits of interest. If you've ever wondered what's inside a snook's stomach, here's your chance.

And if that's not enough to hook you, check out the man-eating plant show. Well, that might be stretching things a bit, but they do have carnivorous plants — sundews, Venus flytraps and cobra lilies — that actually feed on insects and small frogs. That should be enough to stir up some lively office banter on Monday.

Comments

Captainís Corner: Get ready for gag grouper migration

With falling water temperatures and bait fish making their way into the near shore waters off of the coast, we can expect the fall migration of gag grouper to be in full swing with the next two or three cold fronts that make their way into the centra...
Published: 11/18/17
Updated: 11/20/17

Captainís Corner: As visibility improves, so does spearfishing

Spearing in the Gulf of Mexico is improving day by day. First, the underwater visibility is getting much better. For more than a month, after Hurricane Irma, the offshore water clarity was so poor that most divers stayed home. The water is now much c...
Published: 11/17/17
Updated: 11/18/17

Captainís Corner: Snook bite remains aggressive

We are in the midst of prefrontal conditions, so there should be good fishing today. Bait seems to have moved on the last full moon and judging by the amount of bait fry that has filtered onto the flats, it spawned also. Load up the wells with the sm...
Published: 11/17/17

Captainís Corner: Calm seas closer to beaches rewards with kingfish

Strong east winds have made it challenging for offshore anglers. The first few miles are quite tolerable since the land buffers the shoreline. After that, sea conditions have been tougher. Anglers searching for kingfish have been rewarded with calm s...
Published: 11/16/17

Captainís Corner: A little wind doesnít stop hot fishing in November

Despite many windy days, November fishing has been amazing. The water is cooling off, and the fish are becoming more aggressive. Itís getting to be the time of year when the cold fronts start to make their way out of the north. When this happens, win...
Published: 11/15/17

Captainís Corner: Fly fishing success possible, even in wind

When your day to fly fish arrives, do you hope for a day without wind? Knowledgeable fly fishers know there are many ways to deal with different wind situations. Avoid open water, and select an area that offers protection. Stay close to shore and use...
Published: 11/12/17
Updated: 11/14/17

Captainís Corner: Low tides and cold fronts make for rewarding fishing

Fall and winter low tides combined with cold fronts passing through can lead to highly rewarding fishing. It takes winds blowing 20-plus miles an hour out of the northeast combined with an astronomical low tide around the new moon and full moon phase...
Published: 11/12/17
Updated: 11/13/17

Captainís Corner: Reef fish abundant offshore; mackerel, kings better near shore

Before this recent cold front, we were able to travel where we wanted, and the calm seas allowed us to make the mistake of running past the best depths for our type of fishing. The 40- to 50-foot depths produced almost nonstop action from reef fish, ...
Published: 11/12/17
Captainís Corner: Mackerel still going strong in bay area

Captainís Corner: Mackerel still going strong in bay area

The fall king mackerel run is still going strong. The fish have seemed to come in waves; one week there are numerous fish more than 30 pounds, and a week or two later no one can find any more than 20. It also seems the fish are not moving south all t...
Published: 11/11/17

Captainís Corner: Cold front should push fish into backcountry waters

The approaching front is forecast to drop temperatures for a couple of days. This should push more fish into the backcountry rivers and creeks that feed the bay. Once the front passes and the weather stabilizes, fishing should return to normal. This ...
Published: 11/10/17