More sharks prowl Bay area because of its clean waters

St. Petersburg, Florida -- Dr. Heyward Mathews has been scuba diving in Tampa Bay for 55 years. He has studied the reefs, ecosystem and sediments but he doesn't care much for the apex predator of the sea.

"No, I'm not a real fan of sharks," he said in his marine biology lab at St. Petersburg College Thursday morning. "When you're down in his environment, face-to-face with him, then you get a little different perspective."

Like them or not, sharks are all around.

"If you didn't see two or three dozen sharks weaving in and out of the swimmers, it would be a rare day," said Mathews. "They're there all the time. We're not talking great whites and 20-foot sharks. We're talking ones that are six, seven feet long. They're out there all the time."

Bay area swimmers and boaters have seen more and more sharks lately. In late April, a group of tourists caught a 692-pound Mako shark in Manatee County. A week later, a Pinellas county man hooked a seven to eight-foot-long bull shark on Indian Rocks Beach.

The experts are not surprised more sharks are turning up more often in Tampa Bay area waters.

"When we do see numbers of sharks, there's usually a reason," said Florida Aquarium shark expert Eric Hovland. "The same reason you and I go to great restaurants: they're going to follow the food."

Dr. Mathews believes the water quality is the direct factor that brings big predators to the shores.

"We used to dump all of our domestic sewage into Tampa Bay," he said. "We get better water quality, we get more fish. More trout. More flounder. More snook. The result on that is, now we've got more food for the sharks."

Laws are in place to keep harmful fertilizers and nitrates from being dumped into the waters. That has helped grasses return to strong numbers. Scallops have started to jump in numbers. All of that helps draw in bait fish and keep the ecosystem functioning properly in Tampa Bay.

Photo Gallery: Shark Pictures!


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