LONGBOAT KEY, Fla. (WFLA) – Residents who live on the water along Longboat Key, near Sarasota, Florida, are used to seeing all sorts of marine life in their backyard canals, but the view they had last week was unlike anything they’ve seen before — and experts say it’s because of the red tide bloom impacting the area.
Countless sharks started to appear in the canals near Buttonwood Harbor. They varied in size and species including bonnethead, black tip, nurse and lemon sharks.
Some residents guessed there were hundreds of sharks.
“You saw fins at first just like popping up and then you would look down the canal and with a little bit of the sun, you just saw more and more and you were like, ‘Oh, that is not good,'” said Longboat Key resident John Wagman.
Some locals thought there may have been thousands of sharks.
“You literally could have walked across the canal on the backs of shark — that’s how many there were,” Longboat Key resident Janelle Branower said.
Experts with Mote Marine Laboratory started getting calls from Longboat Key residents early last week. They went out to investigate for themselves.
Jack Morris, a senior biologist with Mote’s Sharks and Rays Research Program, explained why so many sharks ended up in the same location.
“When the red tide comes around, the animals don’t like it so they are seeking areas that don’t have red tide. In this particular case, it happened to be the canal where these people live,” said Morris. “They are basically avoiding the red tide, seeking a safe haven into these canals in this estuary.”
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission continues to report high levels of red tide off the coast of Longboat Key and medium concentrations in Sarasota Bay.
WFLA asked Morris about the outlook for the sharks seeking safety in the canals. He explained that it could be grim.
“As long as we have a persistent red tide in the area, it is going to keep them contained into those canals which don’t have red tide. If it goes long enough, they are going to run out of food and they are going to run out of energy. Unfortunately some of them, if not all of them, might die,” explained Morris.
Experts with Mote say the sharks are being displaced from their normal habitats throughout Sarasota Bay. Researchers plan to continually monitor the conditions in the canals.