The Shark Trackers

It was one of the first times I had wandered out past my waist, the non-swimmer that I am, and into the Atlantic Ocean just south of Jacksonville Beach. My entire family was on the shore and plenty of others, all perfect strangers, were in the water with me, or so I thought. I suddenly noticed people heading back to shore and the people who were already on shore were pointing at the water, where I was still standing in water higher than my waist.

Then it hit me: I wasn’t alone out there. While nobody was pointing at me or in my general direction, it hit me. No, this time it really hit me, whatever it was. I got bumped, smacked, clubbed from behind, whatever you want to call it, by some ocean animal large enough to knock me off balance. Naturally, I panicked and hauled ass back to land.

After I slogged my way through the water with the help of the surf and made it back to shore, which can be achieved rather quickly when a girl believes a shark has tripped her up 30 yards out, I stood next to my mother who had no idea what was happening. My father was no help, either. Finally, I looked out and saw dolphins swimming in a circle, discernible only by their fins. I have heard stories of dolphins protecting potential prey and preventing them from becoming shark victims. So, was it a shark or dolphin that made contact with my legs? I don’t know. I guess it doesn’t really matter, but wouldn’t this story be ridiculously awesome if I actually knew it was a shark?

You’d better believe I’d be telling everyone I knew that I survived a shark attack! Instead, I’m relegated to repeating I got bumped by something in the ocean, possibly a tarpon.

See? There’s no oomph to that.

Anyway, over the next few years, I always paid attention to reports of shark attacks around Jacksonville’s beaches. Usually a lemon shark or a bull shark was to blame for nipping at some poor surfer’s calf or, in one instance, taking off an unsuspecting beachgoer’s foot while he stood in only three feet of water. True story, I swear. The victim was an active-duty Navy guy just out for a stroll at the beach. The absurdity of it is why I remember it so well. Three feet of water, people!

What all this rambling really leads up to is this: Ocearch!


Imagine my surprise when I learned that great white sharks actually frequent the shoreline near Jacksonville! I think this is the most exciting project happening today – unprecedented shark research, tagging, tracking. We will learn so much! Sharks are some of the most misunderstood and reviled creatures on the planet, and I cannot understand why. As it happens, I have a greater chance of being killed in a tornado this spring here in Oklahoma than by a shark when I head back home to my Florida waters this summer. Also, back in 1987 there were more people attacked by squirrels and wild rats in New York City than were attacked by sharks in the entire world.

I’m so proud that Jacksonville is the beginning site and home base of the first-ever great white shark expedition in Florida. As I write this, Lydia, who happens to be a fourteen-foot long great white tagged only two days ago off the North Florida coast, is hanging out a few hundreds yards off of Mayport, just south of the jetties where that Navy guy lost his foot a few years ago.

This is news you can use, people.


8 thoughts on “The Shark Trackers

  1. I absolutely love sharks, and fell even more in love with them when I was able to swim with carribean reef sharks in the Florida keys. It was the most amazing experience of my life, and they are so graceful, and sleek I the water. It’s awe inspiring and I really hope people can learn to respect them and admire them for the amazing creatures they are. I think that the research that is going on is a great thing!

    • I would honestly be too scared to knowingly swim anywhere with them nearby, but to enjoy a beach day is enough for me – I know they’re out there but I’m not actively seeking them out! You’ve got courage, Sarah!

  2. I’ve never worried about being attacked by a squirrel as we don’t have any here. I would run away from rats as I find them creepy but sharks terrify me as great whites and bull sharks do hang out near our beaches in Australia. It is their territory we are going in to, they have every right to be there I know. Further up north, they have shark nets to protect the beaches as they have more sharks but I think I would walk on water if something big bumped my leg……….

    • I recently read an article from New Zealand in which the prime minister insists on killing the sharks first, that his priority is keeping beachgoers safe. I can’t agree with that, BUT then again, here in the US, attacks are very, very rare. I know they happen so much more often in your part of the world.

    • Ha, no kidding. I remember being invited by some friendly Suwanee River kids to swing rope into the river. I’d just moved to Florida but something already told me there were alligators nearby and there were! I politely declined, but these were seasoned rural kids who knew the land inside-out, I imagine.

  3. When I was 16, my friend Ryan and I skipped school to hit The Poles, a popular surfing spot north of Jax Beach. A mean nor’easter was settling in, so it was overcast and choppy (with limited visibility), one of those mornings when the steely grey sky melts into the murk. I pointed out a fin cutting through the surface in our direction about twenty yards out, which submerged before my friend saw it. We then spotted another fin bobbing on an intersecting course, which we took for a dolphin. With both illusives underwater (possibly under us), we paddled hard and caught bumpy waves back to shore. Maybe the dolphin protected us. Maybe it was the same fin. To this day, I’d like to believe the former.

    Statistics about shark attacks occurring in “3 feet of water” are alarming, but where do the majority of beachgoers spend their time when they decide to enter the ocean? It’s akin to saying that most hit and runs occur in the street. Thousands of sharks are currently migrating north along Florida’s Atlantic coast. For surfers, fewer people in the water means more waves:) Thank you for bringing me back…

    • It’s kind of exciting, isn’t it? I have never heard of an area referred to as The Poles, only the Jetties. However, that matters not at all when it comes to the sharks. 🙂

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