GULF SHORES, Ala. (WKRG) — When you step into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, you’re stepping into the home of thousands of marine species, including sandbar sharks. Beachgoers have always known this, and sharks are frequently sighted all along the Gulf Coast, including this recent hammerhead shark sighting in Orange Beach, Ala.
But forget Hollywood movie tropes: sharks pose little risk for swimmers. Since 1900, there have been about 1,600 “unprovoked” shark attacks in the United States, or about 13 per year, according to SharkAttackData.com.
To better understand the sharks who share the Gulf of Mexico waters with us, we invited Sean Powers, director of the USA School of Marine and Environmental Studies. Powers joined Caroline Carithers to tell us more about these fascinating Gulf denizens.
Read the full interview:
Caroline Carithers: Well, let’s start we here at WKRG News five, and I’m here with Dr. Sean Powers. He’s the director of the U.S. School of Marine and Environmental Sciences. He’s also a senior marine scientist at the Dauphin Island Sea Labs. You’ve got a lot going on here. And he’s here to talk about different sharks that we find in the Gulf of Mexico.
So what shark are we talking about today?
Sean Powers: So we’re going to talk about the sandbar shark, which is another ridge back species. But it’s so common. We’re going to talk about it separately.
Caroline Carithers: Okay. So it is common. So people can see it here along the Gulf Coast.
Sean Powers: Correct. Now, most of the fishermen will intercept this offshore fishing for snapper and fishermen. They call it pay the tax man when they get a bite and a shark bites their fish in half. It’s usually a sandbar shark that’s going to do that.
Caroline Carithers: Interesting. So how big do they get?
Sean Powers: So sandbars get to about ten feet about again, about 200 pounds. They’re not they’re not nearly as big as the other shark species. But fishermen consider them quite a nuisance when they.
Caroline Carithers: Keep stealing their fish. So what do they eat in general?
Sean Powers: So they will eat fish. They’re very opportunistic, like most shark species are. And the fishermen are intercepting them more because the population is rebuilding for sandbars. All the ridgeback sharks except for tiger sharks are actually protected. So sandbar is been protected for years, and now its population.
Caroline Carithers: Trying to rebuild.
Sean Powers: Has increased dramatically. Hence, why fishermen interact with them so much.
Caroline Carithers: Yes. So are they a threat to swimmers, scuba divers, people that.
Sean Powers: Could be to divers and to swimmers on the surface. So there’s not many recorded attacks by sandbars, but they definitely could be totally off shore. And you decide to jump in the water, you should be careful just because you might see a sandbar.
Caroline Carithers: So why are they called the sandbar sharks?
Sean Powers: So they’re called that because where they were described in Chesapeake Bay, they’re carved mainly along sandbar in the shallow areas. Interestingly, in the Gulf of Mexico, it’s mainly deep water.
Caroline Carithers: Interesting. That’s what I was asking. Interesting. So another general question about sharks is do sharks sink?
Sean Powers: So sharks, do you think they are negatively buoyant? They do not have swim bladders like bony fish do. The thing that helps the sharks float though, is if you’ve ever open one up, the liver is tremendous. It is just a massive organ and it’s filled with oil. So that helps it. But a shark will generally sink. So that’s why no sharks are on the bottom.
Sean Powers: Most sharks have to constantly move to stay up in the water column.
Caroline Carithers: So they’re in shape. They’ve got to tread water constantly. Interesting. So thank you to Dr. Sean Powers for joining us for this week’s WKRG News five Shark Week.