Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Winter Brings Whales, Sharks near Our Shores

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Winter Brings Whales, Sharks near Our Shores

Article excerpt

Byline: Quinton White

This is the time of year I'm glad I live in Florida. A snowstorm hit the Northeast and, while it is seasonably cold here, it is not snowing, just cold. Now I know some of you think our weather is too cold, but I like the winter when it means sweaters and jackets - but no shoveling snow.

This is also the time of year we get some pretty interesting visitors, and I don't mean human snowbirds. I mean right whales and great white sharks.

Neither of these animals comes into the St. Johns River with any regularity. In fact, I only know one case, in January 2011, when a right whale wandered into the river, and what an adventure that was for local mariners. The river was essentially closed to boat traffic until the whale swam back offshore.

The right whale is seriously endangered, and we have very strict rules and regulations to protect them. Right whales got their name because they were an easy whale to hunt. They swim on the surface and, when harpooned, they float rather than sink. So, whalers wanted to hunt and kill them for their oil and meat. The whalers called them right whales because they were the right whale to hunt.

The right whales migrate from the Northeast coast to South Georgia and Northeast Florida during the winter to have their calves. Ships are required to watch for whales and slow their speed when in the area, and to avoid them as much as possible. Such protective measures have helped the whale population grow from about 300 in 1990 to more than 500 today.

Our other seasonal visitor strikes fear in many people, much of it unwarranted, due in part to the 1975 movie "Jaws." The "dun-na dun-na dun-na" of the sound track is all it takes to make most people think "SHARK!" However, sharks are extremely important to the overall health of the world's oceans. They are at the top of the food web. They reproduce slowly compared to other marine species.

For years, we heard reports of great white sharks in our offshore waters. Many of these sightings were questionable at best. The shark in question was always bigger than the boat, regardless of the size of the boat. But with the advent of cell phone cameras, we get much better identification of these sharks. …

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