Another year, another Shark Week on the Discovery Channel. This year’s episodes, beginning on Sunday, July 31st, offer more unique opportunities to learn about these incredible animals. Every night we sit glued to the television, looking for new information and enjoying beautiful shots of the sleek creatures we often scuba dive with.
At the same time, I’m looking for a Florida connection and it doesn’t take long to find one. A brief mention of Florida in the show entitled “Jaws Comes Home” (so titled because it is shot in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, an area where part of the Jaws movie was filmed) quickly catches my attention.
The show documents the research of an enthusiastic U.S. Fisheries scientist in Cape Cod where Great Whites have been showing up with more and more frequency. The scientist manages to tag the sharks and learn where they go once they leave the Cape Cod area. It seems they head south, along the contours of the U.S. shoreline, including down and around the Florida peninsula.
I know there are dangerous sharks in our Florida waters, such as the Tigers, Bulls and Lemons. But I always thought Great Whites were concerns for Californians, Australians and South Africans, not Floridians. Now I want to know if these traveling Great Whites are just passing by Florida on the long highway to somewhere else, or have other plans in mind.
A quick search on Great White encounters in Florida reveals that most reports are by fishermen, and many are located in the Gulf of Mexico. According to the International Shark Attack Files in Gainesville, between 1920 and 2010 there have been no recorded attacks by Great Whites in the state of Florida.
Great Whites were at one time common in Florida waters, most likely due to an abundance of their favorite food source — seals. More specifically, Caribbean Monk Seals. Since the seals extinction in 1948, it’s anyone’s guess as to how many Great Whites are here in Florida now, and why.
The show’s revelation about the travel of the Great Whites gave even my dive buddy Matt a moment to pause, reconsidering those solo dives he does off his boat, 19 miles out in the ocean. After a few moments of silence, he finally proclaims that I need to dive with him from now on and that we’ll find someone else to stay on the boat.
While shark cage diving with Great Whites in Guadalupe, Mexico is on my bucket list, being surprised by one in a dive off the coast of Florida is not.