Few underwater encounters spark the imagination as much as seeing a shark while diving. Sharks play a critical role in maintaining the health of marine ecosystems and the waters off Jupiter Florida provide habitat for a wide variety of sharks.
Identification is often based on body features such as type and number of fins, snout shape, and number of gill slits.
The Black Tip Reef Shark (Carcharhinus melanopterus) can be seen on their migratory swims beginning in February. The large aggregation of these animals makes for some fabulous photo opportunities. C. melanopterus is hard to confuse with other sharks. The prominent black tips on their fins give this beautiful creature its common name. Preferring shallow, coastal waters, the Black Tip Reef Shark can reach up to 5 feet in length and weigh around 130 lbs. Like the Lemon Shark, Black Tips are also viviparous. A female can give birth to two to five pups in a cycle. These sharks are one of the more timid species roaming the oceans and rarely pose a danger to humans.
One of the larger sharks you may encounter while diving with us is the Bull Shark (Carcharhinus leucas). It is known for its aggressive behavior and can even be found swimming in freshwater rivers as far as 2000 miles from the ocean. They can regulate how much salt is in their bodies even in freshwater.
The Bull Shark gets its name from its stocky appearance and disposition. A fully mature bull shark can be almost 12 feet in length and weigh up to 500 pounds. Like most sharks, they are opportunistic hunters and can survive for weeks due to the slow digestive process.
Another member of the Carcharhinus genus is the (Carcharhinus perezi) or Caribbean Reef Shark. They can grow up to 10 feet in length and weigh around 150 pounds when fully mature. Caribbean reef sharks can usually be found hiding under ledges and reef structures. They are more active at night and are one of the least studied sharks. Typically, they do not migrate and spend their lives in a specific area of the ocean. Like the Lemon Shark and Black Tip Reef Shark, Caribbean Reef Sharks are also viviparous. On average, a female can give birth to four to six pups approximately every two years."
Our most popular elasmobranch is the Lemon Shark (Negaprion brevirostris)! Lemon Sharks get their name from the distinct yellowish hue of their skin. Growing up to 12 feet in length, weighing up to 550 pounds, and having a lifespan of nearly three decades, these gentle giants typically visit our waters in January and February. They are a shallow-water foraging predator that loves to feast on fish, crustaceans, and stingrays. Most of these magnificent creatures have a home range in the ocean and have been observed congregating in groups of up to twenty. A final interesting fact about N. brevirostris is that they are viviparous! These sharks give birth to live pups rather than lay eggs.
Another docile shark that makes frequent appearances in Jupiter is the Nurse Shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum). With an average length of seven to eight feet and weighing around 130 lbs they can usually be found hiding under coral heads and ledges. Nurse sharks breathe by using what’s called buccal pumping. While most larger sharks are ram ventilators and have to be moving so water can pass through their gills, nurse sharks can pump water over and through their gills while being stationary on the bottom. When nurse sharks feed, they swallow their prey whole using a powerful sucking motion. The suction created can even suck a Queen Conch out of its shell.
Tiger sharks are identified by their distinctive striped markings--the younger the shark, the darker the markings. Tigers can reach up to 21.5 feet.
Although less common, hammerhead sharks with their distinctive T-shaped heads, Katherine, a tagged celebrity great white shark, and even gigantic whale sharks have graced the waters off of Jupiter.
Divers can see sharks any time they jump in the water, but some dive sites are more popular with the pelagics than others. Captain Mike's is popular with reef sharks and rays year-round, and popular with lemon sharks in January and February. Lemon Drop, as its name suggests, sees an influx of lemon sharks in the early months of the year. More reef sharks can be found at Area 51. Likewise, look for reef sharks on Tunnels as soon as you dive in, and then toward the end of the dive at the Donut Hole, look for Caribbean reef sharks napping in the hole. Lemons also visit the Zion Train. Nurse sharks can be found anywhere there are ledges and often call one place home their entire life.
Not everyone wants to see a shark, but the fear of sharks is often based on a lack of understanding. If encountering a large marine animal makes you nervous, consider taking a Shark Specialty Course, and learn how to identify the different species that frequent our waters, and learn how to evaluate shark behavior. Seeing a shark shouldn’t be frightening, but it should always be exciting!
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