Tag Archives: Gulf of Mexico

Gulf of Mexico Wildlife

Wildlife in and Around the Gulf of Mexico

Sometimes, wildlife in and around the Gulf of Mexico visits you when you least expect it. Not all the dangers are in the Gulf waters, though. Alligators in mating season tend to roam, oftentimes ending up in a backyard swimming pool or taking a siesta under the family sedan.

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Snakes are about. A friend was sleeping in his bed, felt something cold on his leg and found a black snake curled up next to him. Bears are a problem  from time to time, as well. One family’s car was torn apart when a black bear from the Ocala National Park entered it, probably searching for food, and became entrapped when the door closed behind it.

Sometimes it is man himself who harms the environment, as in the case of Beggar, the bottlenose dolphin who used to reside in this part of the Gulf of Mexico. Also known as “Mooch”, Beggar hung out in the Intracoastal, near the Albee Point Bridge and was popular with boaters who delighted in feeding him.

Beggar was a poster dolphin for man’s encroachment on animal habitat. Most dolphin cruise over large areas of the Gulf of Mexico, but Beggar hung out in the Intracoastal and became used to begging.

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Feeding dolphin is against the law, but few boaters can resist that cute face and friendly attitude (of course, Beggar probably felt no affection. He was just hoping for a handout) and unless the Marine Patrol was out and about, Beggar got fed everything from bait fish to Dorito corn chips. Drunk people would try to pour beer down his throat and worst of all, those who find themselves with no food or drink will sometimes throw a non-food item…a piece of plastic, perhaps, or a pop-top…and Beggar, who knew no better, consumed it all.

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When people buy a boa constrictor or a monitor lizard and release them into the wild, it upsets Florida’s fragile ecosystem. When they swim with the dolphins and smear their human germs on them, it harms wildlife. They toss marshmallows to alligators and then wonder why the alligator ate their dog.

Fortunately, not all encounters with Florida wildlife are so intimidating. I was awakened the other morning by a ruckus at my window. It sounded like a cat climbing the screen, probably chasing a lizard, I thought, and rolled over to go back to sleep. The scratching on the screen continued.

I got out of bed, raised the shade and came face to face with a great horned owl! It was a baby, still full of downy gray feathers, and was as surprised to see me as was to see him. I grabbed my digital camera, but it turned its head each time until I stopped and we just stared at each other. I tried one more time…

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…and succeeded. My visiting owl finally had enough and flew away.

 

 

 

Whether in or out of the Gulf of Mexico, Florida’s wildlife never ceases to amaze.

 

 

Snook Haven, a Retreat to “Old Florida”

Snook Haven: Retreat to an Earlier Era in Venice, Florida

Snook Haven is accessed from the intersection at Old Venice Avenue and River Road in Venice, Florida (exit 191 off Interstate 75). A sign at the entrance of a dirt road points the way in. The drive takes you deep into the jungle that leads to the banks of the Myakka River, just upstream from the Gulf of Mexico, and the small clearing known as Snook Haven.

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History still rests here, despite the modernization of running water and electricity and yes, even an unpaved parking lot. First used by indigenous Native Americans, it became an excellent smuggling site and hideaway for rumrunners in the 1920s and 30s and a perfect watering hole for the locals who knew how to keep their mouths shut.

As prohibition waned, other interest moved in on Snook Haven. A New England businessman was the first to develop the area, building a house by the river for himself, and several cabins for his fishing pals. He also generously kept the place supplied with willing young ladies whose job it was to keep the guests happy. Today, the property is not nearly as nefarious and is under the ownership of Sarasota County. The on-site restaurant is still rustic and serves up local cuisine and the cabins house the boat rental and other businesses, none of them selling moonshine or favors of a different sort.

The site caught the eye of Hollywood scouts as the perfect location for jungle wilderness movies, such as “Prestige” in1931, a movie about, of all things, the French Foreign Legion. One of the Tarzan movies was filmed in the area around Snook Haven, as well as the 1947 “Revenge of the Killer Turtles”, and, of course, as with an artistic endeavor, many of the movies did not reach such heights of glory.

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I must admit that I’ve never encountered a killer turtle on any of my canoe trips up and down the Myakka. Most of them seem pretty laid back.

 

Swamp Walk #5

 

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I do keep a close eye on the alligators, though, and keep a respectful distance.

 

 

Alligator hunting season started a few weeks ago and it opened with a bang when two Venice fishermen caught a 12 ½ foot alligator in the Myakka not far from the Snook Haven landing (photo courtesy of wwsbtv).

It took an hour to overpower the massive alligator and the men feared the giant gator would sink their 14 foot fishing boat. In true “Old Florida” style, once the taxidermist is done, the men plan to donate it to the Snook Haven Restaurant, which seems fitting.

It hasn’t arrived yet, but the new managers of the restaurant are displaying other impressive examples of local habitat. If you’re lucky enough to go today, you’ll enjoy live country music entertainment from 11 AM until mid to late afternoon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Palm Island, Placida, Florida

Palm Island, Placida, Florida Vacation Paradise

Palm Island lodging is not only limited to the Palm Island Resort. There is a range of rentals among the private residences on the south end of the island.

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The beach is surprisingly empty, but Palm Island is semi-private. During our walk, I was reminded of my childhood summers at the beach, when the world seemed less populated. We found shark’s teeth and fiddler crabs that scurry in and out of holes in the sand, panicking at the sound of your approach. The sandpipers skitter away, as well, and you feel your presence interrupt their world.

Traffic is mostly golf carts, since there’s nowhere to drive. People who live on Palm Island year round need cars to commute, but the farthest you can drive on the island is from the ferry dock straight to your home or to the Palm Island Resort parking lot, 3 miles due north.

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A Palm Island Home

Palm Island Beach Time

Friends arrived and we sat on the Palm Island beach together, four aging baby boomers in their beach chairs, and talked of the things we usually talk of: their dogs, our kids, houses and property values, the war, the economy, the way sweeping statements on the internet aren’t always based on hard facts, whether buying a sports car means you’re having a midlife crisis or just making the kids jealous, and other deep topics.

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Later, we drove to the Palm Island Resort parking lot and they took us on the courtesy golf cart the rest of the way to the general store, since no cars are allowed beyond that point. Non-resort visitors are welcome, but the pool and tennis courts are off limits. The men bought their beer and I found a hat that matches Baby Blue, the T-Bird that we travel to Florida destinations in, so I bought it, too.

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(No, we didn’t leave it on the beach)

 

 

 

After our friends left on the last ferry out of Palm Island at 11 PM, we fell asleep to the sound of surf outside our open windows, rolling rhythmically onto the sand, then pulling away, gently rocking us into the land of dreams of a little Palm Island hideaway of our own.

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Palm Island Resort, an All-Inclusive Getaway

Palm Island Resort, an All-Inclusive Getaway With Something for Everyone

Palm Island Resort is a unique getaway destination located off Florida’s southwest coast between Fort Myers and Sarasota. It is accessible by boat or ferry. The Palm Island Resort is on the north end of the island. Private homes, many available for seasonal rental, are on the south.

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Supplies must be carried in, so plan carefully, since the ferry ride is not cheap, even though the island is only100 yards across the Intracoastal Waterway that divides the island from the coast of Placida.

We’ve stayed at the Palm Island Resort twice and thoroughly enjoyed the experience both times. For those seeking privacy, I recommend Palm Island Resort Village 1, Unit #18. It is a duplex “cottage” on the edge of the property, offering three bedrooms, two baths, full kitchen and laundry directly on the beach. Bayside homesites are available, as well. Of course, as families with children return to the school year and legislators in Florida consider the value of standardized testing vacationing couples may prefer less spacious digs, so one and two bedroom units are available, as well.

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Unlike the beach at Dog Island, in addition to two miles of pristine white sand beach, the Palm Island Resort offers several swimming pools, eleven tennis courts, and a fitness center. Deep sea fishing packages can be arranged for you on island. Several nearby golf courses are available to those so inclined, and for those interested in eco-tourism, there are miles of nature walks.

Palm Island Resort Amenities

Palm Island Resort offers numerous amenities, from a small shop for souvenirs and sundries, to rentals for everything from golf carts to snorkeling gear. You can eat the food you bring in, or the resort offers two restaurants that feature island drinks and a menu that is heavily slanted to seafood (one off island, the other is located on the resort grounds) as well as a coffee café as dining options.

For those interested in destination weddings, family reunions, corporate retreats or small business conferences, the Palm Island Resort clubhouse can accommodate up to 120 guests, but larger events (up to 450 people) can be held in a tented facility. Planning, decorating, and catering is seen to by an attentive staff attuned to attention to the smallest detail.

Expect an unhurried pace, plenty of entertainment, and, yes, even a little family harmony as the kids clamor, “Please, Mom and Dad, take us to Palm Island Resort!”.

Nick and Matt at Palm Island

Or Not.

Nick at Palm Island #1

There’s no doubt…the Palm Island Resort means great fun!

 

Discover the Bay Side on Dog Island

Life’s Not Always a Beach. Discover the Bay Side on Dog Island

We walked again, this time to the other side of Dog Island and the dock area where we came in. It gave us a different perspective of the island…and lots of sandspurs.

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We passed private planes and private boats, but we only saw one other person, driving away from the dock.

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Three boats were in. One was the car ferry, and when we returned a truck was parked next to the inn. We’d left the unit unlocked, but the visitors were more interested in the shells on the beach than in my wallet. “Too late!” I wanted to shout. “We picked the beach clean hours ago!”

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Dinner was much better! More dehydrated camping food: Chili Mac & Cheese. The Velveeta cheese I’d brought had gone bad, but we still had half a wheel of Gouda left over from lunch, so I tossed the Velveeta in the trash and chopped off some of the Gouda, and also used the last of the Ritz crackers we’d had for lunch to top off our bowls of warm, spicy chili. We ate on the wood deck, enjoying the cool air as the chili warmed our bellies.

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Just to be on the safe side about finding all the shells, though, we walked again after the people left in their truck, only this time we went in the other direction of Dog Island.

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The wind blew strong during the night, revealing every crack and crevice in the old building known as the Pelican Inn. Its whistle down the breezeway sounded like a child crying for help. Spooky.

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Morning dawned through open windows and we rose just before sunrise. I filled my travel mug with hot tea and grabbed a plastic bag for shells and we headed for the beach just as the sun rose.

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The tide had receded much further out and the shelling was excellent. Private planes flew in and out but the beach remained deserted. When I finished my tea and my bag was full of shells, I went back to our unit and despite the Goodwill-style dishware, I managed to whip together a three egg omelet along with toast and butter (I forgot the jam!). Why does everything taste so much better when you eat it outside? As we ate, we watched dolphin leaping and feeding on fish in the Gulf of Mexico that nearby fishermen couldn’t seem to land.

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Our stay on Dog Island would be ending soon. The sun sparkled and shimmered in the sun, undulating with each wave. Seashells littered the beach, strung out on the sand like scattered pearls from a broken necklace.

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For now, though, we drank in the scenery, pulling it deep in our souls, to save for a later day.

Day Three on Dog Island

Walking the Dog Island Beach, Imagining Yesterday

A good breakfast of shredded wheat and milk was just what we needed for our long walk the next day, down to the tip of the island where Gulf and bay become one.

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I could feel the sand scrubbing the dead skin away, smoothing, detoxifying.

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We saw our first human today. He was walking back to the round house on stilts, a book in his hand. Looked like a journal, maybe a Bible? He waved at us, we waved at him, and it seemed enough. Paw prints, footprints, and bird’s feet in the sand were dead giveaways that someone had walked the beach before us that morning, but we did not see a soul in any direction. Holes in the sand hinted at a mollusk presence underfoot.

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The beach butterflies were everywhere, charming us as they flitted around our bodies as we walked. They seemed to be searching in the seaweed for something; we knew not what. Later we would learn the island is in the path of the Monarch butterfly migration, and they arrive, like snowbirds, for winter in the south. Frightened ghost crabs scurried away at our approach.

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We gathered shells and sponges and driftwood. There were loads of scallop shells, but they didn’t have the variety of shells that we do here on the southwest coast. No Scotch Bonnets, no Cat’s Paws.

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We watched a school of dolphin feed off smaller fish in the water as pelicans rode the waves.

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Completely alone, we sat at the tip of the island and wondered if that spit of mainland was St. Mark’s.

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As we turned back in our walk, made heavy now with our burden of seashells and driftwood, I followed in my husband’s footsteps, seeking firmer ground. “This is the way the Indian couples did it long before us,” I think as my mind’s eye imagines that ancient man and woman walking the beach, scavenging what they seek. I marveled again at how little mankind changes over the generations. Man. Woman. Survival.

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A lunch of Gouda cheese and crackers and sliced summer sausage and dried cranberries tasted wonderful and we sat, side by side, watching the waves that mesmerized, a strange combination of rhythm broken by the unexpected. The waves roll in with regularity but they crest and break in different places.

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I took a pillow and comforter down to the low swing for a nap just as the air was turning. The comforter, folded twice, was just enough cushion to make things comfortable and the pillow was soft. A taller person might not have found it as agreeable, but it made a perfect cradle for me, the movement as gentle as the breeze that came in on a whisper, soft on my skin. The sun peeked in and out and the sky turned cloudy and spit a bit of rain at us, but not enough to persuade us to move.

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Of course, there is another side (the bay side) of this island, and plenty of time for exploring on another day.

 

 

 

 

Vacationing on Dog Island

Our Stay on Dog Island had Some Ups and Downs

Dinner was a dismal affair on that first night of our stay. We’d planned to eat in the gazebo rather than the porch this time.

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Packing food, clothes and water in the T-bird had been challenging because of space, so we decided to take mostly camping food, which we keep on hand in case of hurricanes. I’d decided on shelf-packaged BBQ chicken breasts (Chicken of the Sea, I think…I bought it by the tuna fish in the grocery store), dehydrated garlic mashed potatoes and dehydrated corn (both from the camping store).

We carried drinks and dinner to the gazebo. It certainly looked good. The chicken breasts were dripping in sauce, the garlic mashed potatoes smelled wonderful and I’d followed my mother-in-law’s advice on instant potatoes and added extra butter (I always make mashed potatoes from scratch). The re-hydrated corn looked a bit wrinkled, but I figured it couldn’t taste too awful.

I was wrong.

The chicken was dry. Even though there was sauce on the outside, it was like eating a piece of cardboard. No big deal, I thought. I’m not big on meat anyway and felt I could get enough from the potatoes and corn. HA! I didn’t think you could put too much garlic in a dish, but I was wrong. Garlic was the ONLY thing I could taste. The corn was tough. I ate a bite of all three and pushed my plate away.

We’d had a nice lunch earlier in the day, and skipping a meal wouldn’t kill me. If I got hungry, I could eat the cookies I’d brought for dessert.

After a rather dismal meal, we sat on the porch swing after dinner, under the stars, and drank a mojito and listened to the waves. I could feel the stress roll away.

 

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Later, we sat on the Dog Island beach, under stars laid out on a blue-black sky, facing the ocean.

“God has made such a vast world,” I think, “And we are so tiny in it. This one eco-system, perfectly perfect in all its adaptations allows us to hang suspended in space.”

Rain came in that night, but we were perfectly cocooned in bed, listening to the soft patter muting the sound of the waves through our open windows.

The storm soon strengthened and the wind whistled as it swept down the open corridor that ran the length of the building. Since the place was so deserted, it was a bit unnerving, especially when the wind reached a shrieking pitch, but I burrowed deeper into the bed, reminding myself that I was alone and had nothing to fear on Dog Island.

 

The Beach at Dog Island: Privacy & Seashells

The Beach at Dog Island: Privacy Abounds

Need privacy? The beach on Dog Island is the place for you if you are an adaptable traveler willing to trade luxury for solitude. We enjoyed our time there. A wealth of gorgeous seashells awaited. I collected bags of extra large scallop shells that I turned into spa packages later that year, filling them with fancy soaps and soft washcloth and bath salts/bubbles. I wrapped them up with a big fancy bow. I filled other shells with a small plastic baggie of white sand and tiny seashells and a votive candle…very zen-like! They made lovely hostess gifts. Of course, at the time, I wasn’t sure what I would do with the shells. I only knew they were wonderful and I had to have them.

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We did not see another person all afternoon and evening. We felt completely alone on a castaway island.

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I saw feisty crabs and shy stingrays as well as small seabirds and raccoon tracks.

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I only saw one stingray, but still, whenever I entered the water, I did the “Stingray Shuffle”. Just in case. The stingray is hard to see because of the water’s surface, but if you look closely, you’ll notice the long barb:

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We walked until we lost the light, then turned back and walked in the dark, watching the lightning over the mainland.

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As stated before, the Pelican Inn is rustic. There is a kitchen in each unit, but it is basic. There is no store or restaurant on the island. While the Inn has running water, it is not potable, so drinking water must be carried in.

Unfortunately, during the unpacking of our car, the beer was left behind. My husband wasn’t very happy, but he couldn’t say anything because he’d forgotten his own beer. I pulled one beer out, a can I’d thrown into the cooler, the last one in the fridge, just before we left for our getaway. He took it, happy to have a beer, but still miffed that it would be his last until we left the island. I cheerfully reminded him we had rum and he could have mojitos.

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Okay. He could have rum and coke, too. I felt bad, but there really wasn’t any way to rectify the situation without paying $75 to take the ferry back to the mainland and I knew that wasn’t going to happen. Maybe next time I ask if he got everything out of the car, he won’t snap my head off. Or maybe not. Either way, I still love that old dog.

 

 

 

The Pelican Inn at Dog Island

Finding a Peaceful Oasis on The Pelican Inn Porch

I’m not sure how to describe the Pelican Inn. I loved it because I grew up in beach houses and don’t mind rustic. But I can see why they don’t get many visitors. It’s a bit like staying at the Bates Motel, only without Norman and his “mommy”. It is obviously in need of a man’s touch when it comes to maintenance. It needs some major cosmetic work and a complete scrubbing. I’ll skip over this part for now, but I’ll have plenty to say on the subject later. I’ll say this now: if you’re going to charge resort prices, you should have a functioning hot water spigot in the bathtub, and kitchen cabinets that have cabinets that open and close well. In other words, don’t charge Hyatt prices and provide (sparse) Goodwill furnishings.

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I walked straight through the unit, deciding to deal with interior matters later. It was the gulf experience I’ve come for, and on that, the Pelican Inn delivers. From there, the view expands. The four steps down to the large deck affords a panoramic view of the deserted stretch of beach that holds the Gulf of Mexico back as Dog Island does the job of all barrier reef islands: protect the mainland. The deck is generous enough to easily accommodate two porch swings, a table and chairs and a couple of chaise lounges. To the left, a series of different deck levels leads to a gazebo, to the right is the outdoor shower and hose and steps that lead down to the beach.

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The water sparkled like lights on bits of broken glass, diamonds that glittered in moving schools on the water as currents continue their motion below and moving clouds change the colors of the water from green to blue to navy black. The quiet is broken only by the waves and a passing seabird.

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This swing is too old for an old gal like me, I think. I look an uncoordinated hippo sitting down and getting up, but once I’m settled in, oh, it is a seat made for me. “This is how it is for tall people,” I think, “when their bended knees are well clear of the seat.” The swing is quiet, no squeaky chain and this rope, at least, does not creak. I push myself, flat-footed, and the swing glides, forward, then backward. My lower back so appreciates the difference in angle. “I should have my husband cut all the chairs down when we get home,” I think. Well, not the ones he sits in, of course, and I must leave some for company, but a few, just for me, and others who are short and struggle, sometimes knowingly, sometimes not, against the norm.

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We have the Pelican Inn to ourselves, our deserted and desolate sandcastle by the sea. There are no other guests and the owner is out of town. We are surprised by the level of trust.

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In our next post, we’ll take to the beach!

The Gulf of Mexico: Florida’s Shark Tank

The Gulf of Mexico: Florida’s Shark Tank

Do the sharks in the Gulf worry you? They shouldn’t and they usually don’t concern people until the news media swarm in to sensationalize the occasional attack. I’ve even heard of well-meaning people from Indiana who came down and started catching sharks, reasoning that if they culled the herd, there would be fewer attacks. That sounds reasonable to someone from a landlocked state, I suppose. It would probably work, too, if we didn’t have more sharks than Midwesterners.

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Shark bites aren’t a common occurrence, despite the media jumping on every sensational story. Millions swim every day without incident. In our area, there have been exactly 4 bites since 1986. Of course, that’s little comfort if you happen to be one of the four.

Humans are not a shark’s food of choice and most people bitten by a shark find that the shark quickly releases them when they realize they’re not a fish.

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Bull sharks, however, are aggressive toward humans but fortunately for those of us who live along the Gulf, they tend to prefer the waters of the Atlantic.

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There are ways to minimize even the slight chance of being attacked. No, I’m not going to tell you to stay out of the water, although I DO like that billboard sign that says “No sharks in a Blue Aqua swimming pool!”

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The first thing to remember is to avoid swimming at sunset and sunrise. This is when fish eat and the sharks follow the fishies. Don’t swim near fishermen, either. Sharks are attracted to the smell of bait. Take off shiny jewelry and you might want to rethink that shimmery swimsuit, as well as bright colors, all of which remind Mr. Shark of fish scales. Swim in guarded areas. A lifeguard on top of a life station can see for quite a distance and sharks aren’t that hard to spot in gulf waters. If a flag goes up, get out of the water. Sharks can smell one drop of blood a literal mile away. Monthly cycles and open wounds should be carefully considered. Thrashing about in water can mimic a wounded fish, so stop jumping around and acting like a tourist.

Personally, I’m more worried about stingrays than I am about a shark bite, which is less likely to happen than being struck by lightning. So I do the “stingray shuffle” as I wade through water: shuffling my feet instead of taking steps. The disturbance from my feet in the sand is felt by stingrays burrowed in under the sand. Stingrays are quite shy and will swim off if possible, but they have a nasty barb on the end of that tail and they’re not afraid to use it if startled.

Out of all the wildlife danger, though, be they sharks or stingrays, gators or snakes, the most dangerous animal of all is the shark that cruises the Beach Bar on a Saturday night. Run away real fast if you see one.