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Go to http://www.newsherald.com/news/beach-91972-city-panama.html to see the picture of the shark and a kayak.
Walkers and fishers on the pier Thursday afternoon were privy to an astounding sight, as a basking shark, about 15 feet long, meandered around the Russell-Fields Pier.
Basking sharks are extremely rare in this region, with only one other documented sighting in the Gulf of Mexico, said Dr. Robert Hueter, director of the Center for Shark Research at Mote Marine Laboratories in Sarasota. “It absolutely is a basking shark. This is amazing,” Hueter said as he watched a video of the animal. “What are you doing up there?”
The shark came within feet of a kayaker who reached out to touch the animal causing it to swim away, pier manager Kerry Stroud said. The shark has not been seen since.
Many on the pier were excited by the sighting, but Stroud said beachgoers have nothing to fear.
“They don’t eat people,” he said.
Basking sharks are “filter feeders” and survive on a diet of algae, krill and plankton, rendering them harmless to humans despite their impressive size. Basking sharks are the second largest fish species, typically measuring about 30 feet with a maximum weight of 19 tons.
From the photo, Stephanie Nagle, education coordinator at Gulf World Marine Park, said the shark’s pointy nose and absence of distinctive whale shark spots and stripes identified the rare species. “It’s very interesting because they are cold-water fish,” she said, but added not a lot is known about the species’ migratory patterns.
As spring develops, shark sightings will become more common as the larger creatures follow the migratory patterns of smaller fish, Stroud said. “We catch them out there (on the pier) all the time, usually not that big,” Stroud said.
People coming in contact with sharks, even the kind that aren’t carnivorous, should keep their distance, Nagle said. “That’s my rule; whether you’re 5 or 100, it has a mouth, it can bite,” she said. The tails on the massive animals can be equally dangerous, if not more so, and boaters should keep their distance as well, she said.