Most years, the sharks show up first, swimming down to warmer waters around mid-January, fleeing the frigid temperatures around the Northern and Central Atlantic coastline and following prey south. Unlike the hordes of college co-eds, the black tips are mostly male — a 10,000 strong fraternity of roving predators on the hunt. They usually leave the female sharks behind in colder waters, potentially because shark bros, like their human counterparts, are always telling their girlfriends to chill.
Unlike frat bros, however, black tip reef sharks are timid and mostly harmless — there are zero recorded deaths from a black tip bite. Period. So if you see another “Reagan - Bush ‘84” tank top near the water, turn back. If it’s just a teeming school of six-foot sharks, you’re probably fine, according to researchers at Florida Atlantic University, who are studying and tracking the sharks’ migration.
“The sharks are not out to get you, and if they wanted to bite you, there’d be ample opportunity,” Dr. Stephen Kajiura told Christian Science Monitor. “But in this clear water, they can easily see you’re a human, not a fish. Besides, these sharks are skittish, and they’ll likely swim away, even if you try to get close.”
Ordinarily, Kajiura said, the mass migrations are less visible. But this year, he told the Orlando Sentinel that the sharks appear to “really like Palm Beach County,” which is just north of Miami. Researchers think the sharks have been forced so close to the beach by the continental shelf — a long strip of shallower water the black tips like — which bottlenecks near Palm Beach and could be funneling the massive school of black tips close into shore.
Although the sharks migrate south for the winter, Kajiura says rising temperatures mean their territory is expanding, stretching them as far north as Long Island in the summer. Although, again, the black tips are mostly harmless.
Check out FAU’s aerial video of the shark migration below. They’re way up above, but all the black specks in the water? Sharks.