Beach Buddies

Like clockwork, the ocean is warm again and the marine life is back to sharing the beach with Floridians. While it’s no surprise that people might bump into a fish or seagull, it’s the sharks that aren’t so forgiving this year.

After Jacksonville Beach’s recent shark attack, many are staying out of the water, speculating why a sudden rise in shark sightings and attacks.

“We have had a lot more sharks pop up because the Jacksonville Beach Pier opened up,” said local lifeguard Igor Kazhuro. “Predators are coming near, specifically sharks, because there’s a lot more bait out now with the people trying to catch fish.”

For the last five years, Kazhuro has worked as a lifeguard at Atlantic Beach Ocean Rescue. Having years of calm mornings, even he has taken notice of many sharks. “We have had to put up the purple flags due to the fact that we have been seeing sharks pretty much every morning,” he said.

Yes, sharks are scary to many people, but what most don’t know is that many of their attacks are accidental. Rather than fearing sharks, Kazhuro gave us some good intel and what to look out for when swimming.

“We tend to see a lot of fish around bait pods, small circles of fish, that are swimming up and down the coast away from predators,” said Kazhuro. “Sharks like to come and get into those small pods of fish and eat them. So, if you see a bunch of small fish jumping around in a small area, there is something most likely chasing it.”

If one does ever encounter a shark, the best thing to do is to poke its eye or to stick your hand in its gills and rip it out. It will give you enough time to get away and onto the shore by the time it realizes what’s going on. A gentler option is to push their nose down to push it away from you.

Whether in or out of the water, it’s good to know what’s happening the in the area, so always check the beach flags. Green means it’s a great day to swim, not a rip current or violent wave in sight. Yellow means swim with caution, as there might be rip currents or a strong current going north or south. A red flag means it is a dangerous day to be in the water and to be very cautious. If you don’t feel like you’re confident swimming in the ocean under these conditions, lifeguards suggest that you stay out of the water. And lastly, the purple flag means dangerous marine life including sharks and jellyfish, really anything that could harm the general public.

“If we ever see a shark in our waters, from tower to tower we whistle the pedestrians out and clear it for at least 30 minutes or until we feel confident enough that a shark isn’t in the area,” said Kazhuro. “If we see the shark again, we re-up that timer. That timer is for us to be safe.”

So far this year, Florida has had 20 unprovoked shark bites, compared to 28 in 2021. “We haven’t had any shark attacks in Atlantic Beach in years now,” said Kazhuro. “But sharks are around. They come up to shore, probably two to four feet offshore.” Hopefully, swimmers will continue to stay aware and know what to do in case of a shark attack to keep that number as low as possible.

Yes, the ocean is vast and unknown, but instead of fearing it, we should respect and learn what to do in frightening situations. Millions of people swim in the marine life world every day. It would be courteous of us to learn their rules as well.

“Just be cautious. If you see a fin, get out,” said Kazhuro. “It’s not worth messing around,” 

About Casey Alixandra