Sharks in the Gulf of Mexico
Jaws - Who's for lunch?
Sharks in the Gulf of Mexico are usually of concern to the many people who come here to enjoy our waters. This blog hopes to inform and entertain you, put your mind at ease and most importantly, help you be safe.
It is hard to believe that almost 46 years ago one of the most terrifying movies ever was released.
Jaws, featuring a great white shark which terrorized a small coastal community drew us into the horrific reality of a shark gone bad!
It was and is a classic film, directed by Steven Spielberg, and brought home the reality that venturing out into the gorgeous looking, calm waters of the Gulf of Mexico may not be the safest thing to do on holiday!
Going out for a cooling swim and ending up as lunch for some passing shark can have a huge impact on your day.
But before these thoughts can scare you from entering the waters around Panama City Beach, it is probably worthwhile knowing some facts about sharks in the Gulf of Mexico and then you can make safe decisions.
The Gulf of Mexico is the ninth largest body of water in the world and is home to a huge variety of marine life. This marine life includes more than 1,443 finfish species, 51 shark species, and 42 ray/skate species as well as many, many others.
The Great White Shark
Eats: Everything including other sharks. Also eats tuna, rays, dolphins, porpoises, whales, seals, fur seals, sea lions, sea turtles, sea otters and seabirds. They have also been known to eat objects they cannot digest.
Recent studies have suggested that Great Whites find humans unpalatable, which is good news for us. Attacks on humans are rare and thought to be mainly because of the shark mistaking a human for a seal or something similar.
Their average size is 14-18ft and average weight 1,500 - 4,000 lbs. They are not the largest shark but they are the largest predatory shark. In fact they are the top predator in the ocean and only have one threat to their survival and that is us.
They are build for speed. They can reach up to 35 miles per hour and not forgetting the teeth, they have about 300 in up to seven rows.
Although Jaws made a lot of people think great white sharks are everywhere, in fact they are quite uncommon in our local waters as the water is generally too warm. That is not to say there are no great whites, because there are and they have even been caught by line fishing on Panama City Beach.
Great whites prefer cooler waters and these days many of them have been tagged with location beacons so they can be tracked. If a great white enters our waters there is a good chance that it will be tracked and appropriate warnings issued.
Common Sharks in the Gulf of Mexico.
There are many different species of sharks in the Gulf of Mexico.
Most commonly found around our coast line are:
Bull Shark, Thresher Shark, Nurse Shark, Hammerhead Shark, Oceanic White Tip Shark, Blacktip Shark, Sandbar Shark, Shortfin Mako Shark, Blacknose Shark, and Finetooth Shark.
Some of these are described in detail below:
1.) Bull Shark
Eats: Everything. Stomach contents have include bony fish, sharks, dolphins, sea birds and even sea turtles.
Can you fish for it? Yes; sharks must have a fork length of 54 inches.
General: This hardy species can grow to up to 11 feet long and is one of the few shark species that can also inhabit fresh water. It’s considered one of the more dangerous shark species, accounting for the third highest number of attacks on humans. (The only shark that could eat you in 2 different types of water)
2.) Great Hammerhead Shark
Eats: Stingrays, grouper, sea catfish, a variety of bony fishes, sharks, crabs and squid.
Can you fish for it? Not in state waters; it’s a protected species.
General: Great hammerheads - which can grow to be 13 feet long - became a protected species in 2014 because of growing concerns the sharkfin trade was putting too much pressure on the fishery.
NOAA still allows a small fin trade in federal waters but requires permits. It’s currently under review for the endangered species act.
Around Panama City Beach we have a different species of hammerhead called “Scalloped Hammerhead”. The Scalloped Hammerhead has a smaller more rigid head than the the Great Hammerhead.
Although Great Hammerheads have been seen in the Gulf of Mexico the Scalloped Hammerhead is more common among the two in Panama City Beach.
3.) Sand Tiger Shark
Eats: Anything on the sea floor. Bony fish, other sharks and skates.
Can you fish for it?: Not in state waters.
General: Sand Tiger Sharks are completely different than the larger Tiger Shark.
Sand Tigers are commonly referred to as Gray Nurse Sharks and are primarily nocturnal.
4.) Shortfin Mako Shark
Also known as the blue pointer or bonito shark, is a large mackerel shark. It is commonly referred to as the mako shark, as is the longfin mako shark.
The shortfin mako can reach a size of 4 m (13 ft) in length. The species is classified as Endangered by the IUCN.
The shortfin mako shark feeds mainly upon cephalopods and bony fish including mackerels, tunas, bonitos, and swordfish, but it may also eat other sharks, porpoises, sea turtles, and seabirds.
They hunt by lunging vertically up and tearing off chunks of their preys' flanks and fins.
Mako swim below their prey, so they can see what is above and have a high probability of reaching prey before it notices them.
4.) Blacktip Shark
Eats: Other fish, small sharks, some rays, squid, crab, octopus and lobster.
Can you fish for it? Yes, with no minimum size limit.
General: Blacktips can grow to a maximum of 6 feet and often form large schools during their annual migration, when they head south to deeper waters for the winter months.
Blacktip sharks are often mistaken as Spinner sharks with only having 1 small black fin on top of their spine as opposed to 2 black fins on top and bottom.
5.) Lemon Shark
Eats: Bony fishes, crustaceans, mollusks, rays, small sharks and occasionally on sea birds.
Can you fish for it? Not in state waters; it’s a protected species.
General: This shark is commonly found inshore, but rarely bites humans. It’s known for doing well in captivity, and young lemons are a favorite subject for physiological and behavioral studies.
6.) Nurse Shark
Eats: Spiny lobsters, shrimps, crabs, sea urchins, squid, octopi, marine mollusks and the occasional unlucky grunt.
Can you fish for it? Yes. Sharks must have a fork length of 54 inches, but the meat is considered poor quality.
General: Nurse sharks are frequently spotted by area divers around wrecks and other structures.
This shark will only attack you if you provoke it, strongly preferring to spend its time lazing around on the bottom of a reef.
It’s been used in physiological and immunological studies.
Shark Attacks in 2020
Shark attacks world-wide decreased in 2020 falling to 57 unprovoked bites, down from 64 in the previous year. Of those bites that proved fatal, six occurred in Australia, three in the US and one in the Caribbean.
The US led the world in the number of shark bites at 33, down from 41 in 2019.
Florida is the most likely place to get a shark bite but luckily for us up in the Panhandle, most of the bites were recorded on the western and southern coasts of the state.
Putting things into perspective, the chances of being bitten by a shark are about 1 in 11.5 million whereas the chances of you drowning are (only) 1 in 3.5 million.
Although there are a large number of sharks in the Gulf of Mexico, shark bites are very rare.
There were no fatalities due to shark bites in Florida.
In another comparison from 2019, there were 6 fatalities due to lightning strikes (Florida is the lightning capital of the world!).
Bees, wasps and snakes kill more people than sharks.
Sea Turtles in Panama City Beach
Types of Turtles in Panama City Beach
Throughout the years in Panama City Beach, we only had the loggerhead turtle.
These are really big turtles once they are full grown. They can weigh up to 250 to 300 pounds and measure up to 3 feet in length!
Then everything changed in 2012.
We learned there were more than loggerheads when we discovered a few green turtles and even the leatherback turtle laying their eggs here as well.
The reason this is strange is because sea turtles normally lay their eggs on the same beach and area every time, so either we overlooked them or they decided to change areas for some reason.
What we can do to help Sea Turtles
It’s important that you never mess with sea turtles, their babies, eggs, or the nests.
It’s dangerous to do so because they may not find their way to the water if someone disorients them.
Eggs will continue throughout October each year.
Call Turtle Watch if you stumble upon a sea turtle nest.
These endangered animals need help from trained professionals.
You can even look into the Adopt-a-Nest program if you want to help volunteer.
Make sure that you don’t use lights on the beach at night because you can blind and mess with these animals like the babies when they just hatched.
For anymore information you can look up more facts about the sea turtle.
Manatees in Panama City Beach
Manatees, otherwise known as “sea cows”, are herbivores and eat over 60 different freshwater and saltwater plants.
Manatees inhabit the shallow, marshy coastal areas and rivers of the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, the Amazon basin, and West Africa.
The main causes of death for manatees are human-related issues, such as habitat destruction and human objects. Their slow-moving, curious nature has led to violent collisions with propeller-driven boats and ships.
Some manatees have been found with over 50 scars on them from propeller blades.
Natural causes of death include adverse temperatures, predation by crocodiles on young, and disease.
Manatees weigh 400 to 550 kg (880 to 1,210 lb), and average 2.8 to 3.0 m (9 ft 2 in to 9 ft 10 in) in length, sometimes growing to 4.6 m (15 ft 1 in) and 1,775 kg (3,913 lb) (the females tend to be larger and heavier).
If you're lucky you will see one of these magnificent creatures while out on a jet ski tour!
Some Information for your Safety
The Gulf waters around Panama City Beach are an amazing place to have fun, enjoy the amazing clear waters and experience loads of marine life and it can all be done safely.
There are a few things that you must remember before heading out into the water.....
- It isn't our environment, it belongs to the marine life and we are both visitors and, potentially, prey.
- Don't go swimming around dawn or dusk, these are feeding times! You don't want to be the food!
- Don't swim in murky or unclear water. If you can't see your feet, you're in too deep.
- Keep a constant look out for sea creatures. In clear water you can see them from quite a distance but some creatures like sting-rays bury themselves in the sand and if you stand on one it is going to be a painful experience.
- Here in Panama City Beach we have the sand bars. Two parallel bars of sand with deep water between them. It is advisable not to venture past the first sand bar as sharks may well be there.
- In Panama City Beach there is no separation of fishermen and swimmers. Be aware that the person near you may be fishing and attracting sharks. It is best to keep clear so you don't become the bait.
- Don't swim alone. Two sets of eyes are better than one and any threat is more likely to be seen before it becomes a danger.
- Don't enter the water if you have bleeding or an open wound.
- Do not wear shiny jewelry.
- Do not enter the water if sharks have been seen.
There are surprisingly few shark attacks in these waters. Sharks generally don't like humans - they would rather keep well away.
Come and enjoy a jet ski dolphin tour with Freedom Watersports and come and meet these amazing creatures of the sea!
We hope you have learned some useful things from our Sharks in the Gulf of Mexico and other Marine life blog post.
When you come on one of our tours you can never be sure what you may see, but you will have an unforgettable experience!
For more information about jet ski rentals in Panama City Beach please give us a call on:
or book today online!