HBPD shoots, shares, creates uproar with shark video

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A photo clipped from the Aug. 30 video of a blacktip shark by Holmes Beach Police Officer Tom Fraser shows the shark finning and skimming the shallow water at the edge of the shoreline near the Manatee Public Beach in Holmes Beach.

Facebook has its followers. Sharks have a mystique.

The two combined in a video post on The Islander’s Facebook page showing a shark pivoting through the surf in Holmes Beach.

Posted Aug. 30, the video attracted more than 400 comments, 900-plus shares and more than 72,000 views as of Sept. 10.

Holmes Beach Police Officer Tom Fraser took the video at 8:28 a.m. Aug. 30, while patrolling on an all-terrain vehicle near the Manatee Public Beach, 4000 Gulf Drive.

He first noticed three sharks near the shore.

“They weren’t chasing anything I could see,” Fraser said, adding they “were aggressively swimming the shoreline.”

After about two blocks, two of the three sharks swam away from the shoreline.

“I’ve never seen anything like it” in five years of beach patrols in Holmes Beach and two years on Longboat Key, Fraser said.

So he pulled out his camera and — while driving the ATV and scooting away waders in the shallow surf ahead of him — he shot a video of the shark.

He followed it about 10 blocks, to 30th Street, before it swam away.

The species of shark — hotly debated in Facebook comments — is a blacktip, say experts at Mote Marine Laboratory and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

“The shark in the video may just be following the shoreline during what appears to be relatively calm conditions, looking for prey, small fish species, sometimes invertebrates,” FWC spokeswoman Melody Kilburn wrote in a Sept. 5 email.

Fish and Wildlife Research Institute public information specialist Michelle Kerr echoed Kilburn’s conclusion, saying the shark in the video appeared to be swimming normally.

Comments on Facebook ran the gamut, with viewers guessing the type of shark and the reason for its shoreline jaunt. In the wake of a 10-month harmful algal bloom in southwest Florida, one post jokingly announced a new breed, “The Red Tide Shark.”

Lisa Varano of Bradenton wrote: “I’m sure it’s looking for food of any kind. Poor shark’s food sources have been all but depleted. On the other hand, I’m glad he or she is there. That brings hope.”

Rudy Kronauge of Naples posted: “Blacktips hunt predominantly schooling fish and often hunt right in the surf to trap them in shallow water and against dry land.”

A few people mused it was a nurse shark — a species that seldom bites people.

As far as the impact of red tide on the Gulf of Mexico and Sarasota Bay, Kerr said the FWC has been tracking it in Manatee County since last fall when it began showing up in background concentrations.

She stressed the importance of sharks on the ecosystem as apex predators — a species that has no natural predators and, if threatened, can impact the food chain.

Like other sea life, she said sharks can be affected by high concentrations of Karenia brevis and by consuming red tide-infected prey.

Red tide can cause sharks to lose their equilibrium, twist, struggle and become paralyzed, Kerr added.

Blacktip sharks are edible and, according to the FWC, grow up to about 6.5 feet in length, have no minimum size limit and are one of the most common sharks in Florida’s coastal waters.

The FWC encourages the public to report shark or other fish kills on its hotline at 800-636-0511.

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