Large sharks trigger Florida beach closures

COCOA BEACH — Sharp-eyed lifeguards spotted large sharks Sunday near the Cocoa Beach Pier and at Alan Shepard Park, triggering temporary beach closures for swimmers and surfers.

About 11 a.m. ET, a lifeguard at the tower just south of the pier noticed a shark "frolicking near the shore," Brevard County Ocean Rescue Chief Eisen Witcher said.

Lifeguards shut down the surrounding beach for about an hour.

Then about noon, a large shark was seen off the 400-yard-long Shepard Park shoreline, Brevard County Ocean Rescue Capt. Matthew Scales said.

"Our northern tower at Shepard Park had a shark sighting in the water, directly in front of the lifeguard tower. It was about a 5-foot shark, either a blacktip or a spinner, just cruising off the shore," Scales said.

"We immediately closed the beach and cleared the water. We do that with a double red flag. We also go around the waterline and pull people out of the water with whistles and inform them of the situation," he said.

The Shepard Park beach reopened about 12:30 p.m.

"We've been having a (shark) migration pattern coming through. It happens all along the coast this time of year," Witcher said.

Scales said seawater clarity has been excellent the past few days.

"It's been super clear. So they can see any kind of marine life close to shore with their polarized glasses," Scales said of his fellow lifeguards.

Worldwide, there were 81 shark bites in 2016, down from the record 98 set in 2015. As is typically the case, Florida led the way with 32 of the 53 bites occurring in U.S. waters, and nearly half of those occurred in Volusia County, north of Cocoa Beach.

George Burgess, curator of the International Shark Attack File, has said the event of a shark bite is more a function of human behavior than it is of shark behavior.

"A shark attack is a human phenomenon,” he said. “Sharks are a natural part of the ecosystem. The ocean is a foreign environment to humans, and when we enter the sea, we’re entering a wilderness.”

In the past two months, there have been seven bites in Florida, including three in Brevard County. Swimmers are advised to stay in groups, not wander too far from shore, swim at guarded beaches, avoid being in the water during darkness and twilight hours, and avoid entering the water in places where fishing is taking place or where fish are actively being preyed upon.

Contributing: Ed Killer, TCPalm.com. Follow Rick Neale on Twitter: @RickNeale1

Shark bites in Florida

• 7 in eastern Florida counties in past two months (Brevard 3; Volusia, Indian River, St. Lucie, Martin, 1 each) 
• 32 in Florida in 2016
• 30 in Florida in 2015
• 23.8 is five-year average

Source: International Shark Attack File

© 2017 USATODAY.COM


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