Signs of springtime along the Space and Treasure Coasts: amorous alligators, spinning shark and toxic toads. Warmer, wetter weather increases your chances of encountering these and other native and invasive wildlife that you (and your pets) may not wish to meet. Here’s a rundown:
Whirling and twirling airborne in the surf line are spinner and blacktip sharks – so close in appearance that only scientists can tell the two species apart. And then there are other sharks around that you may not readily see – bulls, hammerheads, tigers and, in offshore waters, great whites.
“Blacktip shark migrants return southward during the fall into Florida and adjacent waters. This general pattern is followed by spinner sharks and several other species,’’ said FWC spokesman Doug Adams, who works in Melbourne.
The complete list of shark species that occur along the Brevard County coastal ocean waters includes: Blacknose shark, Blacktip shark, Spinner shark, Sandbar shark, Tiger shark, Bull shark, Nurse shark, Lemon shark, Atlantic sharpnose shark, Sand tiger shark, Bonnethead, Scalloped hammerhead, Carolina hammerhead, Great hammerhead and Smooth hammerhead, he said.
Spring shark migration makes for more sightings by the lifeguards, said Eisen Witcher, chief of ocean rescue for Brevard County Fire and Rescue.
“They are out there. The best way to say it is the ocean habitat is their home. Sometimes they will come in following the bait pods chasing food. We’ll close down the beach to limit the interaction (between the sharks and swimmers) until the bait pod moves on,’’ he said.
According to the International Shark Attack File of Confirmed Unprovoked Shark Attacks (1882-present) compiled by Florida Museum, Brevard County has had a total of 147 shark bites, second only to Volusia County with 303 shark bites. Indian River County has had a total of 22 shark bites in that same time period.
About 1.3 million of these toothy reptiles live in Florida’s freshwater lakes, ponds, swamps, canals and slow-moving rivers. Warming spring weather boosts their metabolism, and they become more active and visible looking for prey – and for love.
According to Leo Cross, founder of Florida Wildlife Trappers in 2008 covering Brevard County, early April is alligator courtship season, with mating occurring in May and June. Like sharks, gators are most active between dusk and dawn, but you’ll often see them basking in the sun.
Good advice agreed upon by FWC gator researchers and trappers alike: never feed gators; keep your distance and keep your pets leashed and away from waterways because gators frequently mistake them for food.
Fatal gator attacks on humans are rare in Florida and no one has been killed in Indian River County or Brevard County for at least 45 years. According to FWC records, Brevard County has had 14 major unprovoked gator bites and 13 provoked bites. In comparison, Indian River County has only had one major unprovoked bite and one provoked. But last spring a 12-footer killed a Davie woman as she walked her dogs at a lakeside park near her home.
What’s most important to know is any time the weather is warm, Floridians and visitors should take precautionary measures when near the water to reduce the chances of conflicts with alligators.
These ugly, non-native amphibians thrive in the warmer, wetter weather of spring and pose a serious poisoning hazard to pets that try to bite or eat them.
While it is unclear the numbers of the giant toads currently in Brevard County, and no cases of toxic toad poisoning have been reported this year at Animal Emergency and Critical Care Center of Brevard in Melbourne and Animal Specialty and Emergency Hospital in Rockledge, they are expected here eventually because they are making their way further north in Florida and have been seen in Tampa, said FWC spokesman Carli Segelson. “They are a concern in the area,’’ she said.
Scientists from the Fish and Wildlife Commission say the toads’ toxin can kill your pet within 15 minutes without proper treatment. If you suspect your dog or cat got hold of one, look for symptoms such as frantic, disoriented behavior, seizures and foaming at the mouth. Then rinse toxins forward out of the mouth with a hose for 10 minutes, making sure not to direct water down the throat. Wipe the animal’s gums and tongue with a dish towel to get rid of the milky, white toxin. Then get to a veterinarian as quickly as possible.
State wildlife officials say the best way to protect pets is to keep an eye on them at night when the toads are most active. Cut your lawn regularly; fill in holes around your house; trim shrubbery; remove debris; and keep pets and their food indoors at night.
Cane toads, otherwise known as bufo or marine toads, were introduced to Florida decades ago to rid sugarcane fields of insects. It didn’t work, and now the exotics eat native species of frogs and toads.