Tampa Realtor Sandy Ernst is a longtime resident of the Bay area. As such, she is well aware of the creatures living beneath the surface of the water and is offering insight into the Bay area’s shark population and how to coexist with our toothy neighbors.

It’s a fact that Tampa Bay, the Gulf and surrounding waters serve as a great nursery for sharks. But, while sharks are a critical part of the food chain under the seas, people are not on their menu and bites are very rare and almost always a case of mistaken identity or curiosity.

And our fertile waters serve as great feeding grounds for a wide variety of sharks. Bonnetheads, a smaller species with a similar look to the hammerhead, roam the seagrass meadows of the Tampa Bay. Larger sharks, such as bull sharks, are known to give birth near the mouths of local rivers such as the Alafia River. Blacktips often call Terra Ceia Bay home while more mature hammerhead and bull sharks are found in the deeper channels and Gulf.

Leave Sharks Alone and They’ll Leave You Alone

Sharks live on a diet of fish, sea mammals and even eat other sharks. If you’ll notice, humans were not on that list. In fact, you are 30 times more likely to be struck by lightning than bitten by a shark.

Although we’re not on a shark’s diet there are ways to give yourself some extra protection when in the water.

  • Sharks sometimes get stuck in lagoons and small bays during low tide, so be careful when swimming in such areas at these times.
  • Avoid diving from boats but, if you must, refrain from doing so at night and be sure to carefully scan the surrounding water beforehand.
  • Pay attention to fish swimming patterns. If fish start to school or dart away, chances are a shark or other potential predator is nearby.
  • Fishing boats and anglers from shore can attract sharks looking for an easy meal, so try to avoid swimming near them.
  • The splash of a dog paddling is like a dinner bell for sharks so be hyper vigilant at Tampa Bay’s dog parks near water.
  • Areas between sandbars can attract sharks so be aware.
  • Avoid swimming in dirty, murky water. It can impair your field of vision and that of sharks too.
  • If you have a bleeding cut or an exposed wound do not swim in open water.
  • Try to swim on sunny, clear days. Foggy mornings and dusk may cause a shark to confuse you with prey.

Do Tampa Bay Sharks Have the Cure for Cancer?

The scientists at the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium are hard at work studying Tampa Bay sharks and Gulf sharks examining feeding and migration patterns and also looking for ways sharks can directly benefit people.

For example: what do sharks have the makes them cancer free?

According to Mote scientists sharks have a natural resistance to disease, specifically to cancer, and they are hard at work studying the shark's immune system to hopefully take a step toward finding a cure.

Mote also provides shark population data to agencies such as the National Marine Fisheries Service so fishery managers can implement appropriate management strategies. Shark populations are overfished and severely depleted, which could have serious implications since sharks play a primary role in the marine ecosystem.

Jaws in the Gulf? Yes, but Rare

Then there’s Betsy. Betsy was tagged with a tracking device in 2013 off the coast of Cape Cod and is a very well-traveled girl. Betsy is a 12-foot, 7-inch, 1,400-pound great white shark that was tracked just off the coast of St. Pete just a few years ago but no reports of bites, etc. have ever been reported with her.

So while we certainly share the waters with Tampa Bay sharks and Gulf sharks a little common sense can help everyone keep safe at a safe distance.