GALVESTON, Texas—A wild video showing a father and son catching a shark off the coast of Galveston has prompted some fisherman and beachgoers to report they’re seeing a dramatic increase in the number of sharks around the island. But experts say people are probably seeing nothing more than the usual population of generally harmless creatures that live along the coast any summer.
Nothing’s unusual about catching sharks off Galveston, but what happened to Kevin Stevens has become front page news. His son Hunter shot a video of his dad snaring a black tip shark that appeared to be about seven feet long. What was unusual was that they were riding in a small kayak, and the shark tugged them along for a ride along the shoreline.
"Instead of us using all our energy to try to pull the shark, the shark pulls the kayak," Stevens explained. "It’s called the Texas sleigh ride."
The video aired on KHOU 11 News Saturday night. Shortly after that, a number of fisherman and beach regulars contacted the television station to report they’ve been seeing a large number of sharks around the island.
But shark experts—we’ll avoid the word "ichthyologists"—say black tip sharks are quite common around Galveston. And they may actually become more common this time of year, as newborns grow into maturity.
"Black tips are very abundant this time of year," says Jim Prappas, the biology director for Landry’s Seafood, who’s in charge of the shark display at Houston’s downtown aquarium. "They start to grow up before they move offshore. So in the past, I’ve gone out in the bay and you can find them in a lot of places."
Lifeguards and beach patrol officers chuckle about shark reports, because they usually come from beachgoers who mistake the dorsal fins of bottleneck dolphins for sharks. (Here’s a hint: Sharks generally dart around in jagged paths and don’t leap out of the water.)
"People will be run up (and say) ‘Oh my goodness, I just want to let you know there’s a shark out there," says Mary Stewart, a lifeguard at Stewart Beach. "They assume, "Shark! Freak out! Run!’ "
Stewart, who’s been a lifeguard in Galveston for seven years, says she’s never even seen a shark. But her boss isn’t surprised that people believe they’re seeing more of them in the water.
"Typically toward the end of the summer, when the water gets flat, people start seeing more sharks," says Peter Davis, chief of the Galveston Island Beach Patrol. "The water is really clear right now so you’ll see little ones swimming around when you’re in close. Or because the water is so flat you may see something a little further out."
But Davis points out what should be reassuring news: The odds of a human being suffering a shark bite are somewhere in the same neighborhood as the odds of getting struck by lightning.
"It’s okay," says Stewart, speaking from her perch in the Stewart Beach lifeguard tower. "Go have fun in the water. Don’t freak out!"