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Deck Talks on Tarpon Bay part of ‘Ding’ Days charm

By Staff | Oct 26, 2010

Wendy Schnapp, owner of Tarpon Bay Explorers, draws some of the identifying points of sharks, which may be found in the waters off Sanibel and Captiva. She delivered a free 30-minute Deck Talk last Wednesday afternoon.

Taking a break in the middle of the day is often a luxury most folks aren’t able to afford.

Of course, if you are one of the lucky people who attended last week’s Deck Talks at Tarpon Bay Explorers (a featured activity during the 2010 “Ding” Darling Days celebration), then you already recognize what a special treat the free, informative lectures are.

On select afternoons during the seven-day annual wildlife festival, Tarpon Bay Explorers provided field guides, who delivered a presentation on some of the creatures — including humans — who inhabit (or used to inhabit) the Southwest Florida region, including the lands and waters of Sanibel and Captiva.

On Monday, for instance, Lewis Irvine shared with a small group a few interesting facts and tidbits of information on the life of manatees, often called “Sea Cows.” The aquatic mammal is also credited with helping create the mermaid myth, as sailors of yesteryear sometimes mistook the animal for beautiful sirens.

Manatees, however, are still considered beautiful by most people who appreciate the gentle giant of the seas.

Field guide Lewis Irvine answers some questions about manatees following his Oct. 18 Deck Talk.

“I can’t think of any animal — on land or in the water — that is more gentle than the manatee,” said Irvine. “And think about it… the manatee has no natural enemy. Except for man, from time to time.”

According to Irvine, fossil evidence of manatees dates back to more than 45 million years ago. Originally, scientists believe that the animal had four legs and inhabited the land. However, of the course of time and through both adaptation and evolution, manatees developed into an aquatic species.

“Any animal that goes from the land to the sea, and is an herbivore, is very interesting,” he added. “Evolution, we think, takes place over a very long time. But sometimes evolution takes place in short spurts.”

Manatees are commonly found in the waters off the islands, with an estimated population of 500 in Lee County. Boat collisions are frequently fatal to these creatures, which eat upwards of 100 pounds of sea grass every day. Exposure to cold temperatures have also impacted the species, which Irvine speculates may still be in an evolutionary cycle.

“Our weather is tropical for most of the year,” he added, “but every once in a while, we’ll get hit with a cold spell. (Manatees) just can’t handle the cold very well.”

Wendy Schnapp holds a megalodon shark tooth she discovered while scuba diving in the waters off Venice, Fla.

On Wednesday, Tarpon Bay Explorers owner Wendy Schnapp delivered the Deck Talk focusing on sharks. She identified seven different species which can be found in local waters — blacktip, bonnethead, bull, hammerhead, lemon, nurse and sandtiger — but suggested than an eighth species — spinner — has recently been seen off Sanibel’s shoreline.

“Keep in mind that here in Tarpon Bay, the water is only about five or six feet deep,” said Schnapp. “So the sharks we do see around here are usually pretty small.”

According to Schnapp, a record-high 79 attacks were reported in the United States in 2000, 11 of them fatal. On average, there are 11 attacks reported each year, most commonly in Florida, Hawaii and California.

Sharks may live up to 90 years in the wild, and fishermen are their most common predator. However, scientific research during the past decade has shown that sharks are naturally resistant to some invasive tumors.

Schnapp also pointed out that sharks have excellent eyesight, taste and smell. In addition to the “five senses,” sharks have a unique electroreceptor, which gives them an “extra” sense: sensitivity to fluctuation of electric fields within their habitat.

Deck Talks were also offered last week on sea turtles, dolphins and the Calusa Indians.