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Shark expert says warmer water could draw sharks closer to shore

Dr. Quinton White, professor of marine biology at Jacksonville University, said the bites are random, but warmer water and more people in the ocean could play roles.

When she’s not in school, Dhaani Ailawadhi is catching waves at Jacksonville Beach. Monday, though, Ailawadhi and her mom were thinking more about what’s in the water than riding the waves.

“I’m extra protective when they go in the water now,” Meghna Ailawadhi, Dhaani’s mom said. "I’m always around them and watching the environment."

Extra protective since a surfer was bitten by a shark Saturday at Jacksonville Beach. Frank O’Rourke is OK after a shark grabbed his elbow, then let go. Another swimmer was bitten off New Smyrna Beach the same day.

“There’s been some speculation that we don’t taste very good because the normal situation is they tend to bite us and then spit us out and so I think they very quickly realize this is not a fish,” Dr. Quinton White, professor of biology and marine science at Jacksonville University, said.

According to Dr. White, who coincidentally was at a conference studying sharks’ patterns the past few days, said sharks’ food comes closer to shore when the water warms up. This causes sharks to swim closer to shore to find their food.

“The sharks have always been there," Dr. White said. "This is their home. We’re the visitor. When people go into the water, they need to be alert these things are going to happen every once in a while because the sharks are feeding.”

He said shark bites are random, but more people in the ocean, along with warmer water temperatures could play factors. Dr. White said don’t wear flashy jewelry and advised swimming in groups to protect yourself in the water.

According to Dr. White, there’s still a lot to learn about sharks and their migration patterns. He said at the conference, they talked about how to use technology to better track sharks over the next few years.

The shark scare won’t stop the Ailawadhis from getting into the water.

“You can have dangers from walking and dangers from doing any activity, but it’s about being careful and the best you can do is to protect yourself," Megha said. "Things could still happen, but do your best to take precautions.”

Her daughter has a message for kids who may now be scared to swim.

“Don’t go off too far in the water and if it’s scary for you, keep coming because it’s still really fun,” Dhaani said.