By Captain Lorraine Frasier
These guys are a hit on tours. Most people think that all jellyfish sting, this isn’t true though. There are several species of jellyfish that do not have tentacles, and therefore, cannot sting you. The only part of any jellyfish that stings is the tentacles.
The Cannonball Jellyfish is an important predator of zoo plankton, they are also a very important prey item for the endangered Leatherback Sea Turtle. Leatherback’s migrate north every summer just to feed on these jellyfish. Conservation on Cannonball Jellyfish is important for the survival of Leatherback Sea Turtles. Humans, especially in Asia, have also acquired a taste for Cannonball Jellyfish. They are eaten in sushi and sea salads.
Above, Leatherback Sea Turtle
By Captain Lorraine Frasier
Since I have been running tours, I rarely go a day without being asked about sharks. There are sharks here, in the Gulf of Mexico, about 30 species to be exact. Worldwide, there are 400 species of sharks, ranging from 8 inches to 60 ft. in length. We do see them on our tours from time to time. Sharks are generally very timid and not very obvious to see.
Shark attacks on humans are extremely rare, especially in this area. Here are some statistics that will make you feel better if you are weary of getting in the water.
- Bees, vending machines, lightning, deer, and people falling out of bed kill way more people then sharks do!
- There are only about 6 fatal shark attacks every year worldwide. Think about how many millions of people swim in the ocean every year.
- Most shark attacks happen in murky water. They happen here because sharks do not try to eat people. Shark bites usually happen when the shark mistakes a person for something else. The water we go to for our snorkel sites is usually very clear.
- Today’s news and media coverage greatly exaggerates the danger.
Certain things we see nearly every tour, but sometimes, we will be surprised by an animal I don’t get to see every day. This is a reason why my job will never get old.
I took this picture one of the fist times I saw this pair of Bald Eagles. I have since seen them fairly often. This pair has a nest on shell island. I have also seen the fledgling quite a bit.
Most of the sea turtles we see here are call the Loggerhead Sea Turtles. It was surprising to see this fellow in the area, especially so close too us. This Green Sea turtle came out of no where as the boat was at anchor, as half of us were enjoying snorkeling a local reef and the rest of us were taking photos and learning about local wildlife nearby.
A good find in our bay! This is a huge predatory Snail. It is the largest mollusk in Florida and it is the State Shell. It has been known to weigh 11 lbs!
This is called the Lined Sea horse, the one above is the largest one I have found yet.
During our interactive snorkeling program I found these big chunks of dead coral. I decided to leave them in the bay since I noticed that there were tiny crabs living in them.
The beautiful Blue Tang is a poisonous fish (to eat). It can change its color from a light blue to purple. We see a lot of colorful fish in the warmer months. Tropical fish like these are brought up to North Florida from the Gulf Stream and travel South in the winter.
All living creatures create electricity, even you and me. The animal above, the electric ray, has special organs that can store electricity like a battery. These organs can deliver a shock as a means of self defense of up to 37 volts. This animal is not aggressive and is of little danger to humans.
It is closely related to stingrays and sharks.
Although increasingly more common in North Florida, this is still not something you see here every day. This highly intelligent animal is very vulnerable to boat strikes. If you are boating in Florida, and are lucky enough to see a Manatee, please be careful and respectful to these creatures.
It may surprise you that these marine mammals are closely related to Elephants. They are also vegetarians, who graze on sea grasses.
I hope this picture doesn’t scare anyone away! We do see sharks on our tours. Normally they are not quite this big though, normally, on calm days, I can find cute little guys which aren’t scary looking at all. This shark above however, was 10 plus feet long, and didn’t seem to mind us at all.
By Captain Lorraine Frasier
This article is for educational purposes only. These are not animals we are likely to see on our tours since these animals live deep in the gulf of mexico.
Scientist’s think there are about 500 individual animals that live here in the the Gulf of Mexico. Marine Experts think they live mainly in the northern part of the Gulf of Mexico. They to follow schools of Tuna to feed on.
There are about 50 individuals of Brydes whales in the Gulf of Mexico that live here year round. Recent genetic testing have revealed that these whales may be a separate subspecies altogether. They live around an underwater canyon off of the coast of the Florida Panhandle, called the DeSoto Canyon. Theses whales weigh up to 90,000 lbs. Males are slightly smaller then females.
This year, we have had two great white sharks come into the waters around Panama City. One was a 14 ft. shark tagged off of the coast of cape cod, and the other one was seen during a fishing charter.
Short Finned Pilot Whale
Photo by Flicker, posted by Mr. Moss.
These animals are prefer deeper waters where their prey item, squid, is abundant. Pilot whales have strong family and social bonds and are known to mass strand. This is the largest member of the dolphin family after the killer whale.
Maybe you’ve seen these large birds on the discovery channel, diving into the water like a torpedo, and “flying” underwater chasing fish, usually on cliffs in colder climates. To even my surprise, we have them in the Gulf of Mexico as well. Northern Gannets favor the Gulf of Mexico in the winter months.
The Redfish Point is another great, quiet, secluded area for snorkeling. While we stop here, I always think of some of that area’s unique history. This area was home to Jose and Nacisco Hawk Massalina.
Hawk was the son of Jose Massalina, who was a free Spanish black, who came to the area around 1830 and remained for the rest of his life. Hawk became quite a historical figure. Hawk was well known as a hunting, and fishing guide in the area.
Hawk enjoyed telling stories of the first balls fired by the Yankees on Confederates making salt. Hawk enlisted on one of the blockading vessels and led union forces to salt making locations around St. Andrews Bay.
After the Emancipation Proclamation, Hawk invited many blacks to live with him and the Red Fish Point area became the first free black settlement in the area.
The government took possession of this property in 1941 and turned it into Tyndall Air Force base. This forced this community to move across the bay to an area now called Massalina Bayou.
Panama city became the center of the confederacy’s salt industry
Panama City, during the time before the civil war was only a small resort town. People came here to bathe in St. Andrews Bay and enjoy the sunshine.
It also became a center for light commerce. Sawmills where established in Panama City, this area used to be very heavily wooded. The bay supported a small fishing industry as well.
The outbreak of the Civil War, of course, brought much of this activity to a crashing halt.
At the beginning of the civil war, President Lincoln issued a blockade of all southern ports, stopping the importation of salt needed to preserve food. This forced people to make their own salt out of sea water. A long drought made St. Andrews Bay good for making salt.
As word got around, thousands came to the area to enter the salt industry. Men were even exempt form conscription into the confederate army when working in the salt industry. The Union destroyed hundreds of these salt making camps.
Federal troops established their headquarters on Hurricane island, which existed then in the old pass.
After being warned not to come ashore, a group of Yankees made the fatal mistake in trying to obtain water in a tavern at old town on March 20, 1863. Confederates killed two Yankees and mortally wounded 4 others. The Yankees retaliated on December 1863 by torching all 32 homes that existed in old town.
In 1961 when digging to build the Escape Hotel, now Casa Blanca, workers uncovered pieces of debris of a Spanish galleon and a 700 lb cannon made in the 1700’s.
At other locations of the beach pieces of armor, old roman and Spanish coins, native american artifacts have been found. It makes you wonder of what else could be hidden beneath the sand.
Spanish explorers established an outpost in sheltered body of water known as Spanish Shanty cove, which offered a commanding view of the gulf, pass, and the bay. Sometime during the pirate years, a Spanish ship took refuge here hoping to outwit the pursuing English ship, but the English ship came bearing down on them.
The captain ordered the crew to heave the ship’s treasure overboard with a rope attached so they could later retrieve it. After the battle, the treasure was no where to be found. The Spanish ship then continued west. Some of the ships crew jumped ship and made their way back to Spanish shanty cove. They dove and dove until they found the treasure. Then, unable to carry the gold they buried the treasure in a nearby sand dune.
Months later, they came back to retrieve their treasure, but found that a hurricane had transformed the spot. They could not locate the sand dune.
According to the legend, the gold is still somewhere on the island.
We are fortunate enough to see these endangered creatures quite often on our tours. There are 5 species of turtles that inhabit these waters, and they are all endangered. The state of Florida is the most important nesting area in the United States for them. Until recently the only species that we have seen nesting here is the Loggerhead, which is the turtle that is most commonly seen. Last year, Green Sea Turtles have made a comeback and the year before that, the biggest Sea turtles and the least common, the Leather back which weighs up to 2,000 lbs made a comeback with 2 nests in the area.
Nesting season runs from May 1st to October 31st.
What can I do to help turtles?
- Lights from development are a big threat, the hatchelings instinctively crawl towards the moon, to a turtle, bright lights on condos may look like the moon, causing them to crawl away from the sea. If you own or stay on a place on the beach, make sure that the lights are turtle friendly.
- Pick up your trash! One of the turtles favorite food is jellyfish, guess what a plastic bag in the water looks like to them…. Yep you guessed right! The best thing you could do for any of the wildlife in the area is to make sure you are picking up your trash, this goes for all wildlife, not just turtles. Ingesting pieces of plastic can be a certain death sentence to these guys.
- Leave no Trace. Take your beach chairs with you at the end of the day. Hatchelings will get trapped behind chairs and sandcastles and never make it to the ocean.
Be sure the mask fits your face. Hold the snorkel mask up to your face clearing the strap from your face. Breath in through your nose. The mask should seal perfectly and stay on, without holding it, for as long as you breath in. If any air leaks in, water will also. Keep all hair out of the seal, if you have a mustache, use a good glob of Vaseline, sunscreen or chap-stick below your nose to act as a “gasket,” or consider shaving the area right below the nose.
The strap should only fit snugly at the widest part of your head, towards the top of the back of your head. If it’s at the base of your skull, water may seep in. If water does start seeping in while snorkeling, reach back and see if your strap has slipped down. Don’t tighten the strap beyond “snug,” being too tight causes leaking, as the seal can be broken. The pressure of the water will help seal the mask to your face. The snorkel should rest in front of your ear.
Choose fins that are snug but not too tight. If they hurt or curl your toes especially, you may develop cramps while snorkeling. If they slip off your heels, they’re too big. Better a little big than too small. Remember they will slip on easier when your feet are wet.
There are a few methods of defogging your mask. We do have mask defog on the boat which works. Alternative methods of defogging your mask are rubbing a little spit on your mask or using Johnson’s baby shampoo to rub on the inside of the mask. Always rinse with ocean water after.
About half of Florida’s tourists drive to Florida, the number one destination for Florida’s tourists is Orlando, and the second hot spot for the drive market is not Miami or Tampa, It is Panama City Beach. Panama City Beach was known as the Redneck Riviera not so long ago because so many people from the southern states vacationed here. Today, the rest of the world is discovering what “rednecks” discovered a long time ago; the worlds most beautiful beaches. Of course, there are many beaches that claim to be the best, but the beaches in Panama City have scientific analyses to prove their boast. According to research conducted by Dr. Stephen Leatherman, a former university of Maryland geography professor famous for his annual rankings of the country’s best beaches, St. Andrews State Park’s beaches where ranked the country’s number one beach. Leatherman judges the quality of the 650 public beaches based on the softness of the sand, the number of waves, rip currents, the clarity of the surf, peskiness of mosquitoes, buildings, and the noise level of the beach.