There are roughly 49 species of sharks living in and around the Gulf of Mexico. Many keep to the deep waters of the ocean floor, feeding on the creatures found at such depths. Other species frequent the mid-range depths, but prefer to stay far from shore where small prey is abundant. There are a few species of sharks who choose to hunt the waters close to land and can be a nuisance to humans. Here, we will take a respectful look at these sharks, their behavior and how to avoid meeting them.
The Bull shark can also be referred to as the Zambezi shark and the Nicaragua shark. Bull sharks are very large, growing up to eleven feet in length – although females grow larger. They can weigh over 500 pounds, thus their given name as ‘bull’. Their bite force has been measured at 1250 pounds per square inch. They are common in shallow warm waters along coasts and in rivers. The most notable characteristic of the Bull shark is its ability to tolerate fresh water, accounting for its common presence in rivers. Typical behavior for a Bull shark is aggressive, erratic movements and unpredictable choices of food. They will eat almost any living thing, even venomous jellyfish normally deadly to marine life. The Bull shark does pose a threat to humans, mainly because it dwells in shallow waters and is territorial – killing anything that enters its territory. It is thought that Bull sharks are responsible for the Jersey Shore shark attacks of 1916, which was the inspiration for Peter Benchley’s novel Jaws.
Great White Shark
The Great White Shark is also referred to as Great White, White Pointer, White Shark or White Death. Males measure about the same as Bull shark, eleven feet, but females have been documented at 16 feet. However there are reports of Great Whites being seen at a length of 20 feet. Their body is long and thick with a white belly. The teeth of the Great White are some of the largest in marine life, measuring up to six inches long. Adding to the immensity of their power is the bite force, documented at 4000 pounds per square inch by the University of South Wales in Australia. The one characteristic of the Great White that sets it apart from other large sharks is its habit of ‘spy-hopping’ or lifting its head above the surface of the water. They do this regularly, possibly because of their overly curious nature. The curiosity of Great Whites may be why they attack humans. Many biologists speculate that the Great White is simply ‘tasting’ the person to see if they provide enough energy (fat) for a meal. According to their biology, the Great White’s digestive system is not appropriate for digesting a human body as we contain too many bones. Any fatalities that occur as a result of a Great White attack are purely due to blood loss.
Tiger sharks are named as such for their markings when viewed from above. They can reach a length of up to 16 feet, but are typically around the ten foot range. Colors of Tiger sharks can cover quite a range, from blue to green to white or even a light yellow. Unlike other species of sharks, the Tiger shark has excellent eyesight. Their jaws are large and terminal, allowing for feeding on marine life such as sea turtles and whales. In fact, Tiger sharks have been documented as feeding on the dead carcasses of whales and other creatures. The Tiger is able to swim slowly, quietly and with their coloration can be very adept at catching unsuspecting prey. They like to frequent shallow waters, both in rivers and harbors. Hawaii has a lot of trouble with Tiger shark attacks, but in the Gulf of Mexico it is not so common – perhaps because of the presence of Bull sharks.
Considering the thousands of people frequenting the beaches of the Gulf of Mexico each year and the relatively low instances of shark attacks, it would be fair to say the chances of meeting one is rare. In any case, it would be prudent to avoid situations that could cause an encounter. For example, sharks like to hunt at dawn, dusk and during the night. Do not go in the water at those times. Sharks can smell and are attracted to human blood, urine and vomit so don’t go in the water if you have an open wound or need to relieve yourself. If you are in the water and you see a shark, exit the water quickly but calmly as they are attracted to sudden movements and commotion. If a shark attacks you, punch and poke the eyes and gills – those are sensitive areas. Sharks are not as bad as the media would have everyone believe, they just need to be respected and avoided.
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