Tips for swimming in the Gulf of Mexico
Stingrays can sting!
Florida is the number-one paradise for water sports. With more than 1,000 miles of beaches and approximately 2,400 miles of shoreline, almost all year round warm water, beautiful sandy beaches – the Sunshine State attracts sun seekers and swimmers alike.
Before you venture out into “Water Sport-Land,” there are a few points to ponder. Know your limitations and swim near a lifeguard stand; you can swim in 6 feet of water just as well as 25 feet of water. So, you decide to go not too far out but when you are in shallow water don’t forget the “Sting Ray Shuffle.” Everybody is scared of shark attacks, but sunburned tourists never think about other (less spectacular) animals in the water, especially when they are hiding in the sand.
They are around
There are quite a few stingray accidents on Florida’s Gulf Coast every year, but many of them were avoidable. Stingrays don’t have humans on their menu, they just “hate it” when somebody steps on their back. Who would not hate that?
When you are the “somebody,” most likely the fish will protect itself and hit you with the stinger. Within a blink of an eye, the fish may whip its barbed tail around to protect itself. The razor-sharp barb will probably hit you in the foot or somewhere in the ankle region. Once it has penetrated your skin, it will immediately release a potent toxin.
The released toxin can be excruciatingly painful and the pain usually last for hours or even days. Don’t try that out because it will ruin quite a few days of your vacation.
Do your shuffle
What can you do? Dance, dance, dance – sounds silly, doesn’t it? Well, the “stingray dance” is not a dance, although it might look like one from a distance. And it is the most efficient way to avoid being getting stung by a stingray – unless you do not go into the water at all. Especially in April/May/June, when schools of stingrays come close to the shore, make sure you shuffle your feet when you wade into the water. The shuffling motion will scare them away because stingrays cannot see too well, but they are excellent in sensing the slightest vibrations.
Compare your size to the size of a sting ray. In comparison, it would be as if an elephant would shuffle his feet next to you. Would you run? I bet you would.
Sharks can bite, too. And under certain circumstances they do!
There is another “nasty” fish out there, so let’s talk about sharks. While sharks are present all the time, they are usually found in deep waters and around inlets. In the summer time, they come closer to shore because the shallow water is a breeding ground for fish and they like to eat fish, of course. Humans are not on the shark’s menu at all. However, it happens from time to time that sharks mistakenly take a bite. Sharks, like stingrays, have a very poor vision. Therefore, they attack moving targets or interesting looking ones.
What are the chances of falling victim to a shark versus getting hit by lightning in Florida? The lightning bolt is the clear winner! Check out where the real killers are “hiding.”
Can you outsmart a Fish?
Sharks were already around when dinosaurs were ruling the world. The first humans came way later, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that sharks are smarter than people. Their brain did not develop any further and remained the same “fish brain” over millions of years. It is well suited for what Sharks need to do to survive. But that is pretty much it.
So, sharks can be classified as “low-brainers” without insulting them. A shark does not reflect about what he is seeing or doing. Instead, he reacts to something he notices. When he sees movement in the water – it is most likely prey. When he smell blood in the water – it is wounded prey. When a shadow in the water looks like prey – it is obviously prey.
When your watch or necklace is reflecting the sunlight a shark might find it “interesting.” In his “opinion” it might be prey, so why not take a “test bite” and see what it is? Therefore, if the shark can not cerebrate, the human being has to think for him.
Shark attacks are rare
It is extremely unlikely for a person to get bitten or attacked by a shark in Florida waters, and if it happens it is fortunately rarely life threatening. But, always be on the safe side. If you want to go swimming on an ocean beach, and if you are concerned about sharks, there are some steps you can take to reduce your chances of getting into the line of fire. But first, let us evaluate what your chances are getting attacked by a shark.
In the U.S. your chances of getting killed by lightning are 75 times greater than dying of a shark attack. Bees, wasps, and snakes kill more people each year than sharks. So what? Still afraid? Following are a few things you can do to minimize the risk of a shark attack. While you do this, you better watch the sky for black clouds because there might be the real danger coming.
How to minimize the risk
- Always stay in groups since sharks are more likely to attack a solitary individual.
- Refrain from excess splashing, as this may draw a shark’s attention. Wounded prey splashes. Why do you want to attract them?
- Wearing jewelry is discouraged. The reflection off shiny jewelry resembles the sheen of fish scales.
- Use extra caution when waters are murky. When you can’t see well, sharks can’t see well either. Sharks have a poor vision and in dirty water that vision doesn’t get any better.
- Be careful when occupying the area between sandbars or near steep drop-offs. These are favorite hangouts for sharks because that is where their prey is.
- Avoid being in the water during darkness or twilight hours when sharks are most active. As mentioned before, Sharks cannot see very well; they attack whatever is moving.
- Avoid waters with known discharges of sewage and waters used for fishing. Who wants to swim in sewage anyway?
- Be wary of feeding birds, or porpoises, which indicate the presence of fish. Those fish are shark food. So, that is probably a perfect spot to be for a shark.
Even more rules:
- However, Sharks can see contrast particularly well. Uneven tans and bright-colored clothing may draw a shark’s attention.
- Never harass a shark! Sharks are “shy,” they don’t like confrontation. They prefer to attack when it seems safe to them. If you corner one he might “feel uncomfortable.” Let him swim away. Don’t try to be a hero. A 6′ shark can quickly teach you who the “boss” in the water is. You are by far not fast enough to get out of the water before he bites.
- Swim only in areas tended by lifeguards. From their towers, they can detect sharks better than you down in the water.
- Do not enter the water if bleeding – blood is attracting sharks, and they can smell very well.
- While there are myths and anecdotes about dolphins saving humans from shark attacks, sighting dolphins does not indicate the absence of sharks—both often eat the same foods. Don’t expect “Flipper” to protect you. This is not Hollywood – this is the real world.