Uncovering Cozumel’s Shark Attack History
By Tom Seest
At TopCozumelNews, we help people traveling to Cozumel plan their trips and activities using information collected on our trips to the beautiful island.
When traveling to Cozumel for diving purposes, it’s essential that you are aware that sharks may be present and be prepared for encounters.
Although this fact has long been recognized, its effects are still very concerning – specifically due to how human actions frequently trigger shark attacks.
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Whale sharks are one of the most beloved sights while diving off Cozumel. These graceful creatures can often be found throughout the Caribbean Islands and represent one of the highlights of any trip to Cozumel.
These magnificent animals can reach up to 60 feet in length but, more commonly 40. Commonly referred to as the gentle giant of the seas, this shark species poses no danger or threat to human lives and poses no risk to anyone who comes in contact with it.
Filter feeders feed at or near the surface of the oceans, swimming with open mouths to filter food through large mouth pads and gill slits – an adaptive response to life in marine environments. This process is known as filter feeding.
An adult whale shark consumes an estimated daily intake of 300 pounds (140 kilograms) of fish. Most of this diet occurs during the night hours; however, whale sharks also forage for food during daylight hours.
As it feeds, a whale shark reaches out with its tail to capture fish, then opens and closes its four-foot-wide mouth in order to create suction through suction suctioning (known as sucking).
Whale sharks eat an assortment of small fish, squid, and other crustaceans; their primary feeding spots are coral reefs as well as coastal kelp forests.
Mexican government regulates them as protected species, yet their numbers have been decimated by overfishing for decades now. As such, the International Union for Conservation of Nature lists them as endangered.
Nurse sharks are among the least aggressive tropical water shark species. They typically do not attack swimmers or divers and typically won’t bite even when sensing an attacker nearby.
Though harmless, sharks can deliver painful bites. Furthermore, their attacks could inflict serious injuries upon swimmers and divers, including bites to the face or neck that might require surgical removal. Therefore, it’s vital that precautions are taken around them.
The nurse shark is an abundant species throughout the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico oceans and one of 39 covered by NMFS’ shark management plan designed to preserve populations while alleviating fisheries pressures on them.
These sharks are predominantly nocturnal animals that spend their days resting in large inactive groups of up to 40 individuals. They tend to return to specific resting sites after hunting at night.
These predators often feed on benthic invertebrates such as spiny lobsters, crabs, shrimps, sea urchins, octopuses, marine snails, and bivalves; in addition to this diet, they may feed on algae or ground corals as food sources.
Nurse sharks are one of the few living-bearing shark species. After a five or six-month gestation period, they give birth in June or July with litters containing 20-40 live young.
Nurse sharks get their name due to the sucking motion of their jaws when feeding, which resembles that of nursing babies. Snorkelers who have been attacked by them have even dubbed them nurse sharks!
Tiger sharks are among the largest shark species and are well known for their striking gray body and dark bars or spots on their flanks. As these markings fade with age, juveniles remain easily recognizable.
Tiger sharks can be found all around the globe in tropical and temperate waters. These sharks migrate seasonally from their ideal tropical environment into more temperate zones during warmer months before returning home during the winter (Simpfendorfer 2009).
Tiger sharks pose no real threat to human life. Being omnivorous animals, they feed off marine creatures like dolphins, stingrays, turtles, and horses as well as terrestrial mammals such as goats as well as fish and sea birds as food sources. Furthermore, their stomachs often remain partially undigested from floating garbage, which they also search for.
These predators possess highly developed sensory capabilities and can detect small movements from both prey and other sharks, making them powerful ambush predators. Furthermore, they are known to consume items such as plastic bags, cigarette butts, and fishing nets as part of their daily diet.
In the Mexican Caribbean, shark attacks are extremely uncommon; even when they do happen, they usually only involve swimmers and never snorkelers. 2022 saw only 108 recorded attacks – equaling its lowest total since 2009.
Cozumel is an attractive dive destination that attracts divers from around the world, so it is wise to remain aware of your surroundings at all times when diving there. That includes using your diving equipment properly!
Sharks can be intimidating creatures when in close proximity to humans; however, most encounters between sharks and people tend to be minor and do not result in serious harm. Still, divers who plan on diving Cozumel or anywhere else in Riviera Maya should always be wary of interacting with these fishes.
The Black Tip Shark is an often-seen species in Cozumel and throughout Riviera Maya waters, often found from 30 cm depth up to 75 meters below surface level. As part of its tropical Indo-Pacific diet, these sharks inhabit shallow tropical waters ranging from 30 cm depth and deeper.
This species of stocky shark features dark gray to brown topside coloration with white underside hue and black-tipped fins, along with distinct black-tipped fins. Females usually give birth to one to 10 pups every other year.
These predators primarily feed on various forms of small fish as well as larger ones like squid and smaller sharks, sometimes following fishing boats in order to find food they’ve left behind. They have even been known to follow fishing boats so they can consume any discarded catch!
These sharks are considered Near Threatened due to being heavily fished commercially for meat and fins, leading to overfishing and habitat destruction, resulting in their numbers decreasing dramatically.
Another danger facing sharks lies in the parasites they carry, which can lead to deadly infections. External copepods that attach themselves to their skin pose this threat to these aquatic predators.
Black Tip Sharks are also highly vulnerable to nematodes, microscopic parasites that consume their flesh. Nematodes pose particular threats for young sharks who are less resistant to predators.
The black-tip shark may not be as elusive as whale or nurse sharks, but divers should still exercise caution around them. Their distinct black markings on their fins make them easy to spot during a dive experience and provide divers with an incredible diving experience.
The lemon shark is known to be one of the least aggressive species of shark, rarely biting humans and not causing serious injuries or fatalities. Though reports of bites exist, none were serious, and none resulted in deaths.
Lemon sharks prefer warmer-water habitats such as coral reefs and enclosed bays. Furthermore, these sharks tend to congregate in groups that consist of similar-sized lemon sharks.
Lemon sharks are nocturnal predators that use electroreceptors in their head and dorsal fin to detect prey and stalk it until the perfect moment to attack. These sharks rely on electroreceptors in their prey detection to track it for hours until launching an attack at its next moment of opportunity.
These sharks boast yellow hues to blend in with their coastal habitat, making it easier for them to catch fish. Adults typically reach between 7.9-10.2 feet long and weigh 200 pounds by adulthood.
Lemon sharks possess electroreceptors in their heads and dorsal fins to detect vibrations in the water and locate prey such as parrotfish, mojarras, and crustaceans. These receptors allow them to spot potential meals more easily.
Lemon sharks are viviparous, meaning they give birth to pups measuring 24-26 inches at birth. The gestation period typically lasts a year before baby sharks leave for deeper waters after reaching adulthood.
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