Researchers see dramatic decline in shark migration off South Florida coast

BOCA RATON, FLA. (WSVN) - It’s that time of year when thousands of sharks can be seen off the coast of South Florida, due to annual migration. But scientists at Florida Atlantic University said their numbers are far less than previous years.

Dr. Stephen Kajiura, a shark researcher at FAU, has been monitoring blacktip sharks on their yearly migrations, calling them the “snowbirds of the sea.” The sharks head south when water temperatures drop below 71 degrees Fahrenheit.

According to FAU, the sharks come from as far north as North Carolina, and head as far south as northern Miami-Dade County. But Kajiura notes there has been a dramatic decline in the number of sharks making their way south.

“Last year, we saw a dramatic decline in the number of blacktip sharks that migrated south. In fact, it was so low that we estimated the population to be about one-third of what we have seen in previous years,” Kajiura said.

Researchers said in prior years, as many as 15,000 sharks could be spotted on any given day. But they hypothesize that warmer water temperatures may he affecting the amount of sharks that migrate south.

“We want to make sure that these snowbirds come back to South Florida, because if they don’t, it will have a huge ecological impact in this region,” Kajiura said.

Fewer sharks making the trek affects the health of the ocean, FAU’s researchers note, saying the blacktip sharks are actually beneficial to sea life.

“They sweep through the waters and ‘spring clean’ as they weed out weak and sick fish species helping to preserve coral reefs and sea grasses,” researchers said.

Copyright 2018 Sunbeam Television Corp. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.