Shark tales: Makos make a showing off Southwest Florida
You just never know what you'll find out there in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
There doesn't seem to be much in the way of transects of the Gulf. Boaters seem to hug the shore as they vie between Galveston, New Orleans, Tampa or Key West. The deep Gulf is pretty much no-man's land, at least as far as any research is concerned.
A few years ago, scientists found a bunch of sperm whales out in the hinterlands of the Gulf, a species that was historically spotted - and big-time harvested for oil and other products - in the late 1800s but not really expected to have made any kind of resurgence.
Now, a few fishers have been reeling in mako sharks from the Gulf in waters only 40 miles or so to our east.
Makos are common in almost all of the planet's oceans, but are pretty uncommon in the Gulf. What was especially weird was that it was not a lone shark caught, but two, with a few more hookups reported, one estimated at better than 500 pounds that got away.
As one of the Sarasota-based anglers described it to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, "They seem pretty thick out there. It's kind of unheard of."
The pair that were caught were in the 7-foot-long range and tipped the scales at about 250 pounds. Makos will grow to better than 1,000 pounds.
Mote Marine Laboratory shark experts confirmed the catches as makos after some doubts, since they're so rare in our waters.
And they apparently are great eating, "sort of like the prime rib of sharks," one happy fisher reported.
Another critter report
Here's something that seems to be more of a passage from a "tales of the weird" category: Habitat loss is such that a federal agency has suggested that Florida panthers in South Florida be relocated to other states.
In what has to be one of the wackiest pro-development ideas ever floated, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has suggested that development in the state is constricting the roaming grounds of the panthers, the official state animal. Rather than offer some curbs to development growth, the agency has suggested what appears to be a "throw in the towel" strategy and offered a plan to capture the few cats left and move them to Georgia or Arkansas.
By the numbers, there are an estimated 80 panthers in the wilds of Florida, according to a report in the St. Petersburg Times. The big cats are on the national and state endangered species list, and once roamed throughout much of the state. Today, the critters are pretty much hunkered down around the tip of Southwest Florida.
The feds estimate that the "sustainable population" of the panthers needs to be at least 720, maintained for at least 14 years. Any numbers less than that and the cats face a real threat of extinction, something that the species has had to deal with for at least 50 years.
The problem lies in the fact that panthers value their privacy, and like to have something like 50 square miles in which to roam. Obviously, you can't put in a golf course or subdivision and expect a panther to share the community, so the constriction of habitat has forced the diminishment of its population.
And, of course, although the feds know all of the problems with encroaching growth within panther lands, the permits just keep getting approved for more and more houses, shopping centers, resorts and other human-motivated activities in prime cat habitat.
Arkansas has already vetoed the panther relocation proposal, probably based on a disaster about 10 years ago in North Florida that followed similar lines.
Seems the state wildlife folks released about a dozen Texas cougars in a rural section of the Panhandle, a very similar species to the Florida panther. It wasn't pretty: The big predators took out horses, hogs, cows, deer, and anything else they could find. The test project ended up with seven dead cougars and a whole lot of very, very irate residents.
So here we go again? Jeez.
Happy trails to us
Here's your chance to offer your thoughts about how to protect and what to do to enhance some valuable critter habitat in our area.
Public hearings are scheduled for later this month to discuss the "Comprehensive Conservation Plan" for wildlife refuges in our area, specifically Egmont Key, Passage Key and the Pinellas Refuges. Egmont and Passage are just to the north of Anna Maria Island at the mouth of Tampa Bay; the Pinellas Refuges are farther to our north.
The plans will outline the scope of work needed for the next 15 years, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the sponsoring agency for the workshops.
"The plan will address the management of wildlife and fish populations, endangered species, plant species, cultural resources, public use, education, and research and partnership opportunities," according to the agency. "The public meetings will involve an informal workshop hour where the public is invited to talk with staff and view maps and information about the refuges. A presentation on the refuges and CCP process will follow the workshop hour."
The local meeting of the plan will be at 6 p.m. Monday, Feb. 13, at the Manatee Civic Center, Anna Maria Room - fitting, isn't it? - at One Haben Blvd., Palmetto.
You can also offer written comments through April 1 to the agency at 1502 S.E. Kings Bay Drive, Crystal River FL 34429, c/o Tampa Bay Refuges CCP. For more information, call (352) 563-2088.
Here's one for almost all of us - at least those born from the 1930s through the '70s, compliments of David Reid.
"First, we survived being born to mothers who smoked and/or drank while they carried us.
"They took aspirin, ate blue cheese dressing, tuna from a can, and didn't get tested for diabetes.
"Then, after that trauma, our baby cribs were covered with bright colored lead-based paints.
"We had no childproof lids on medicine bottles, doors or cabinets, and when we rode our bikes, we had no helmets, not to mention the risks we took hitchhiking.
"As children, we would ride in cars with no seat belts or air bags.
"Riding in the back of a pickup on a warm day was always a special treat.
"We drank water from the garden hose, not from a bottle.
"We shared one soft drink with four friends, from one bottle, and no one actually died from this.
"We ate cupcakes, white bread and real butter and drank soda pop with sugar in it, but we weren't overweight because we were always outside playing. We would leave home in the morning and play all day, as long as we were back when the streetlights came on - well, on the Island, until it got too dark to be able to find the baseball.
"No one was able to reach us all day. And we were OK.
"We would spend hours building our go-carts out of scraps and then ride down the hill - well, at least down the dirt streets - only to find out we forgot the brakes. After running into the bushes a few times, we learned to solve the problem.
"We did not have Playstations, Nintendos, X-boxes, no video games at all, no 99 channels on cable, no video tape movies, no surround sound, no cell phones, no personal computers, no Internet or Internet chat rooms. WE HAD FRIENDS and we went outside and found them!
"We fell out of trees, got cut, broke bones and teeth and there were no lawsuits from these accidents. We ate worms and mud pies made from dirt, and the worms did not live in us forever.
"We were given BB guns for our 10th birthdays, made up games with sticks and tennis balls and although we were told it would happen, we did not put out very many eyes.
"We rode bikes or walked to a friend's house and knocked on the door or rang the bell, or just yelled for them!
"Little League had tryouts and not everyone made the team. Those who didn't had to learn to deal with disappointment. Imagine that.
"The idea of a parent bailing us out if we broke the law was unheard of. They actually sided with the law!
"This generation has produced some of the best risk-takers, problem solvers and inventors ever! The past 50 years have been an explosion of innovation and new ideas. We had freedom, failure, success and responsibility, and we learned how to deal with it all.
"And we are one of them."
As David put it, "Kind of makes you want to run through the house with scissors, doesn't it?!"
Although the jury appears to be out on the exact speed, mako sharks are thought to be one of the fastest-swimming creatures in the water. Scientists are pretty much in accord that they can go up to 22 mph; some argue that they've clocked the sharks at 60 mph.
Oh, and they also like to jump out of the water.
Enjoy your day offshore.