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Blind Pass project dredges up concerns about sharks

By Staff | Dec 23, 2008

The City of Sanibel issued a Beach Advisory early Monday for the waters in and around the Blind Pass Dredging Project, stating that the project was attracting sharks to the area. However, Project Manager Robert Neal, Coastal Engineer with the Lee County Division of Natural Resources, says there is no immediate cause for alarm.

“Although it’s unconfirmed, we believe at this time that the sharks that have been sighted are sand sharks, which are not known to attack humans,” said Neal.

Sand sharks can grow to between 5 and 7 feet in length — a bit smaller than the notoriously famous Great White Shark of “Jaws” fame, which, as the largest predatory fish in the sea, can grow to lengths of 20 feet, according to the MarineBio.org Web site.

“Of course, when people hear the word ‘shark,’ there’s always going to be a degree of alarm,” said Neal. “They’re pretty scary looking, but if they’re the sand sharks I think they are, there’s really no need to worry.”

Neal said that the reported shark sightings are probably just the regular inhabitants of the waters around Blind Pass.

“We’re just seeing more of them,” because of the dredging project, he explained.

Because the dredging is stirring up the waters, making food sources easier to get to for the organisms that attract the smaller fish that sharks feed upon, there has been an increase in reported shark sightings, said Neal.

“It’s actually a neat opportunity to get out and see some sharks if you’ve never seen one,” he suggested, adding that the fish will come in extremely close to shore (or the “nearshore,” said Neal), where the dredged material is being placed.

“I’ve seen them in ankle-seep water,” said Neal, stressing that he believed that there was no cause for alarm.

Shark activity is most prevalent in the early morning and early evening hours, said Neal.

“I swim over there all the time,” he said. “I have to. It’s part of my job. And I’m really not concerned about it.”

However, in an effort to alert swimmers, bathers and boaters in the Blind Pass area of the presence of a yet-to-be-identified shark species, warning signs will be posted in the area in early January, said Neal, “just as a precaution.”

In addition to sharks, the dredging project and the stirred up food sources are attracting other species, including birds.

“You can see them just waiting around for the food,” said Neal. “They’re not even phased by the people around. They’re just looking for the food.”

The Blind Pass Dredging Project is scheduled for completion in May 2009.