PHOTOS: Sharks Survive Florida ‘Red Tide’ by Hiding in Neighborhood Canals

by Matthew Memrick

Sharks are getting friendlier with Florida residents by swimming in neighborhood canals out of necessity, thanks to the state’s growing red tide issue.

The fish are hiding by the hundreds in residential neighborhood canals in cities like Buttonwood Harbor, Longboat Key, and Sarasota, making for a scary sight.

The toxic red tide outbreaks off Florida shores are pushing the animals inland. In some areas, the sharks can hardly breathe from being too close to each other. Oxygen supplies can deplete fast in those areas. Too many sharks can threaten their food supplies as well.

Though common in Florida, the red tide grows off the central and southwestern Florida coastline between Clearwater and Sanibel Island. 

They are most common off the central and southwestern coasts of Florida between Clearwater and Sanibel Island but may occur anywhere in the Gulf. 

“This is an unnatural thing. These sharks are not here through their own choice,” Dr. Bob Hueter, chief scientist of ocean data organization Ocearch told Fox 13 Tampa Bay. “They are there because they are seeking refuge from red tide which could kill them.”

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, red algae blooms can be fatal to fish. For humans, the red tide can cause serious illnesses for people with severe breathing issues. Humans can also suffer skin irritations and extreme reactions from eating seafood affected by the red tide.

But for sharks, an algae bloom can be especially sensitive. Larry Brand, a professor specializing in phytoplankton at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, told there’s a bit of evolution to the shark’s situation.

While fish die in the blooms, sharks want to avoid the blooms, he said. 

Sharks Survive Florida ‘Red Tide’ by Hiding

The influx of bonnethead, lemon, blacktip, and nurse sharks may be extraordinary to see, but residents also take it as a sign of a troubled environment. 

“You literally could have walked across the canal on the backs of sharks,” Longboat Key resident Janelle Branower told local station WFLA. “That’s how many there were.” 

The Guardian reported that fish kills over the last week in nine counties and human breathing issues in nine counties were a cause for concern. Vice reported that the dead fish on the beaches are now being bulldozed and scooped up by heavy machinery, so they don’t spread the algae toxins further. 

The abandoned Piney Point fertilizer plant was also a red flag for officials. Millions of gallons of toxic discharge were ending up in the bay. The discharge’s impact on the red tide is yet undetermined.

One Florida city, St. Petersburg, was spending $61,000 on the dead fish. According to Newsweek, more than 791 tons of dead marine life, mostly fish, had been found on Pinellas County beaches, according to