Hundreds of sharks that have been spotted in canals of a Florida town may be avoiding red tide, according to marine life experts.
The sharks have appeared in the canals near Buttonwood Harbor in Longboat Key, which is south of Tampa, WFLA-TV reported.
The sharks vary in size and species. Bonnethead, black tip, nurse, and lemon sharks have all been spotted.
Jack Morris, a senior biologist with Mote’s Sharks and Rays Research Program, said that many animals do not like red tide, an algal bloom that can be deadly for marine life.
“In this particular case, it happened to be the canal where these people live at,” he told WFLA. “They are basically avoiding the red tide, seeking a safe haven into these canals in this estuary.”
He said if red tide continues, the sharks may stay in the canal, which could have devastating effects for them.
“If it goes long enough, they are going to run out of food and they are going to run out of energy. Unfortunately some of them, if not all of them, might die,” he told the station.
Dr. Bob Hueter, the chief scientist of Ocearch, told WTVT-TV, the area’s local Fox affiliate, that the sharks’ presence in the canal is “an unnatural thing.”
“These sharks are not here through their own choice,” he said.
He said he observed a similar pattern near Lower Tampa Bay in 1992, when “an unbelievable grouping of sharks came in, six or seven species then came in and then dispersed.”
Newsweek reached out to the town of Longboat Key for comment, but had not heard back Tuesday morning.
Patchy bloom conditions persist in Tampa Bay, but conditions have improved in the past week, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.
Red tide is a naturally occurring algal bloom caused by higher-than-normal concentration of a microscopic alga, typically Karenia brevis, that turns ocean waters in the Gulf of Mexico red, according to the commission. It can be harmful to both marine life and people, causing serious illness for people who have respiratory conditions. It can also last for just a few weeks or as long as more than a year.
Red tide has been linked to a significant number of dead fish found along the St. Petersburg coast in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Elsa. The city had spent $61,000 a day on cleaning up the dead fish. More than 791 tons of dead marine life, mostly fish, had been found on Pinellas County beaches.