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Take It Outside Planner: How to watch Perseid meteor shower, Shark Days at Mote

SUMMER SKY: Perseid meteor shower viewing

Skywatchers' summertime favorite the Perseid meteor shower returns this week, and this year astronomers expect an outburst of 100 to 200 meteors per hour — about double the usual rate. Peak times are from 11 p.m. to 4:30 a.m. Thursday and Friday, according to Earthsky.org. Those of us in the South will have about a third less of an outburst, but you can still expect about 50 to 80 meteors an hour, NASA predicts. But you need to find a dark enough place to appreciate it late into the night. The best recommendation is to go camping and try to watch in the wee hours or watch in shifts with bunk mates. Barring a campsite, the very-dark Dade Battlefield Historic State Park in Bushnell is opening its gates 8-10 p.m. Friday to invite visitors to take a night walk along trails before stopping to view shooting stars. Entry is $3 per vehicle, $2 for those walking or on bicycles. The park is at 7200 County Road 603, Bushnell. (352) 793-4781.

BITE OF SCIENCE: Scientists champion Shark Days at Mote

In its second year, Shark Days at Mote will bring out scientists to champion the ocean's most interesting predator. For its weeklong festival Sunday through Aug. 20, Sarasota's renowned Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium won't use the often-wrong scare tactics in Discovery Channel's popular Shark Week (and don't even get us started on Sharknado, chumming its fourth summer of schlock on Syfy). The scare tactics get ratings, of course, by focusing on the few species of sharks known to have attacked humans.

In truth, sharks pose practically no danger to humans, and Mote aims to promote conservation. The pressure from conservationists is working in some ways. Since 2014, Discovery has sworn off the fake documentaries like Voodoo Sharks, though it has yet to dial back the sensationalism even on its educational documentaries.

For a reality check, highlights of Shark Days at Mote include:

• Mote's screening of Jaws will be shown in its theater Monday at 6 p.m. Free popcorn will be provided and there will be beer and wine for purchase. Following the film, Bob Hueter, Mote's senior scientist, will lead a discussion and Q&A session. This is free but RSVPs are required for space at mote.org/sharkdays.

Sharks & Crafts for kids in the aquarium courtyard at 11 a.m. Tuesday included with admission.

• See the biologists feed and train the sharks Monday Wednesday and Friday at 11 a.m. in the 135,000-gallon shark habitat.

• Aug. 18 at 6 p.m., adults can join Mote experts for its Science Cafe: Sharks, Tales & Ales — a free, casual discussion between the experts with appetizers and cocktails for purchase.

• The Sharks Alive program Aug. 19 at 11 a.m. is a live interactive program focused on shark research with an overview of shark husbandry and training and a Q&A session with an ocean expert. You'll get to see a virtual shark training session with Mote biologists.

Fins and Fun on Aug. 20 wraps up Shark Days with a family festival starting at 10 a.m. that includes games and crafts, Mote divers in the shark exhibits and activities to teach about the importance of sharks in oceans. Girls ages 6-17 interested in science — especially sharks, skates and rays — are invited to a free meeting of the Gills Club from 1-2:30 p.m. that day. The meeting includes hands-on activities and the introduction of a researcher.

The Mote Aquarium is at 1600 Ken Thompson Parkway, Sarasota. (941) 388-4441. Admission is $19.75, $18.75 seniors, $14.75 ages 4-12, 3 and younger free.

WILDLIFE SPOTLIGHT: Ghost crabs

Be on the lookout this summer for ghost crabs, a common, albeit seldom-seen resident of Florida's Gulf Coast beaches. With a pale colored body and generally nocturnal habits, this crab often goes unnoticed as it digs its burrow in soft sand. A popular nighttime activity is ghost crab "hunting" with a camera and flashlight. The point is not to hurt the crabs; this is strictly a chasing activity with a camera. The crabs are small, 1 to 2 inches in diameter, with one claw larger than the other and thick, almost comically elongated eye stalks over its box-like body. They scuttle sideways and can do it pretty quickly. When taking a nighttime walk on the beach, look for a hole in the sand not far above the high tide line. Be very quiet because they are swift runners, darting away at the slightest sign of danger. You might spot a little crab throwing sand out of its burrow or you might see wading birds such as the yellow-crowned night heron stalking the crab holes for dinner. The quieter and more secluded beaches like Fort DeSoto or Honeymoon Island State Park are the best places to find these shy crabs.

Contact Sharon Kennedy Wynne at swynne@tampabay.com. Follow @SharonKWn

Take It Outside Planner: How to watch Perseid meteor shower, Shark Days at Mote 08/10/16 [Last modified: Friday, August 12, 2016 11:45am]
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