The Sharks of St. Joseph Bay

Published: Thursday, January 16, 2014 at 09:46 AM.

Although Blacktip Sharks have a worldwide distribution in warm seas, along the Atlantic coast, Blacktip Sharks range from New England to Florida and around the Gulf to Mexico. They are a very common inshore species around Florida and in the Gulf of Mexico, especially in the spring and summer. As the name implies, this shark has an unmistakable black patch on its dorsal fin, as well as black on the edges of the caudal or tail fin and on the pectoral and pelvic fins. According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, the majority of shark bites in Florida are likely attributable to this species, although there has never been a fatal attack in this region, and this shark is usually considered wary of humans, even somewhat timid. Blacktips reach a maximum length of about 6 feet, but the average size is slightly less than 5 feet.

Sharks in general possess some of the most amazing adaptations of any living creature. They have lateral line receptors that can sense movement in the water, and electroreceptors that detect changes in electrical fields due to the presence of prey. They have highly sensitive smell receptors, and even have the ability to replace teeth throughout their life. If you catch a shark while fishing, gently release the animal. They are important components of the marine food web and researchers are regularly documenting disruptions to marine ecosystems that have resulted from the overfishing of sharks. These predators are necessary to keep our bay healthy and productive, and deserve our respect rather than fear.

Tom Baird has been a fisheries biologist, high school and community college teacher (oceanography and microbiology), director of a science and environmental center, teacher of science and principal in Pinellas County as well as an educational consultant. He retired from the Florida Department of Education and he and his wife divide their time between Tallahassee and Cape San Blas.

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