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First Large Shark Sighting Of Winter Migration Season Reported South Of Palm Beach Inlet

A large school of about 2,000 blacktip sharks was spotted off the coast of Palm Beach on Friday.

The sharks typically migrate to South Florida waters from mid-January to March, but FAU researcher Stephen Kajiura—who recorded the sharks on video Friday, Jan. 29—said he hadn't spotted any large numbers of blacktips this season until then.

"We've had such a warm winter so far," he said. "It's possible the temperature had not dropped enough to stimulate them to migrate south."

Sharks off Palm Beach, FL

The aerial survey flight yesterday revealed that large numbers of sharks have now arrived in southeast Florida. This video clip was captured off Palm Beach, just south of the Palm Beach Inlet. Looking forward to tagging some blacktips tomorrow. This is a greatly downsampled clip; the original 4K video is much clearer.

Posted by FAU Shark Migration on Saturday, January 30, 2016

Kajiura has been conducting aerial surveys since 2011. He mounts a camera out of a plane window and then has a student watch the footage to count the number of sharks by hand. These videos capture a view spanning from the shore to about 200 meters off-shore, or the length of two football fields.

His research used to cover only Palm Beach County but now stretches from Miami to the Jupiter Inlet. He typically flies once a week starting in December.

Friday's sighting occurred south of Palm Beach Inlet, but Kajiura said this is nothing for locals to be concerned about.

"Sharks have been doing this since long before we got to Florida—hanging out in the winter and heading back north again," he said. "It's a natural phenomenon, so it's not anything unusual."

Though the exact number of sharks is still being manually counted, Kajiura said prior experience would have him estimate the school to be in the couple of thousands.

"And those are just the ones that we saw," he said. "We know that there's others, like on the other side of the plane."

For the first time, Kajiura also attempted to film the school of sharks underwater. On Tuesday, he dropped a GoPro camera afixed to a concrete block into the ocean.

"It was just an experiment … just to see if I could see anything, to see if it would work, and it did," he said.

The water conditions were choppy, which made for poor visibility, but he hopes to try it again soon on a clearer day.

Blacktip shark school

First attempt at using a camera mounted on a block and dropped into a school of blacktip sharks. Depth was about 2m and winds made the water choppy with poor visibility. Nonetheless, several sharks were seen swimming past the camera. Looking forward to trying it again under better visibility conditions.

Posted by FAU Shark Migration on Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Photo courtesy Mark Mohlmann