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Spring Break brings return of tourists, sharks and stingsrays

Published: Mar. 25, 2021 at 7:09 PM CDT
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PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - As tourists and locals alike flood back to Panhandle beaches for Spring Break, so too are marine animals returning for the summer.

Numerous species of shark and stingray return to the Emerald Coast every year to give birth as waters warm.

While the COVID-19 pandemic mostly kept people away from the area last year, the number of people returning this year means there is a slightly higher chance of encountering a shark. While chances are miniscule that any injuries may occur from a shark, there are steps people can take to ensure safety.

“What we tell people to do is that if you’re in the water, try to avoid swimming in areas where the visibility may be reduced,” said Dr. John Carlson, a research fish biologist. “At sunrise and sunset, if we get a good rain storm and the water gets a little turbid, we try to tell people to avoid swimming during those times.”

A shark attack on a human occurs when the shark mistakes someone for prey, like a wounded fish. Swimming in murky or cloudy water increases the likelihood of a shark making that kind of mistake.

“Think about the bottom of your foot,” Carlson said. “The bottom of your foot is white. It contrasts very sharply in poor visibility water and looks like a wounded fish, which a shark is going to feed upon. We also ask people not to wear jewelry. Jewelry flashes very similar to a fishing lure.”

In addition to sharks, stingrays are also returning in droves to the area. Rays tend to remain closer to the shore and rest in shallow water, where it’s possible to step on one, potentially resulting in a very painful sting.

Dr. Carlson has a very simple strategy to reduce this risk.

“We tell people to do the stingray shuffle, which is basically when you walk out into the water you shuffle your feet,” Carlson said. “It gives a little signal to the stingray that something is coming and usually chases them away.”

The number of sharks and rays in the area will only continue to go up in the coming months.

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