Shark attacks generally occur just south of Ponce Inlet in Volusia County. If you’re unfamiliar with the area, you might call this Daytona. Twice a year we get the chance to experience and interact with swarms of sharks, large pods of dolphins, and dozens of elusive mantas. The migration this April was one of the best ever. The "mistaken identity" attacks on the surfers compelled the Beach Patrol to place hazardous marine life warning signs all along the beaches. We run kayak adventure tours in the area. The conditions were perfect. Light wind, slow current and great visibility, and no one in the water. We spotted huge schools of mullet swarming south from the inlet. We stood ready with our ocean kayaks. The pelicans started diving into the dark patches of living seafood as the dolphins started circling the schools.
We put in and stayed to the south of the action. Soon the sharks started darting through the confined mullet courtesy of the dolphins. As we sat just to the south, outside the surf line, the show engulfed us. All around us pelicans dove with abandon, dolphins powered through and dove up with beaks full of mullet, and spinner sharks thrashed about in the walls of food.
As we looked, numerous dark patches of baitfish were scattered all around in the turquoise water. We spotted another dark cluster of mullet repeating the cycle just to the north of us. We repositioned ourselves so the drift would engulf us again. This time we slipped into the water with mask, fins & snorkel for a closer view. We weren’t disappointed.
Soon we were surrounded by a spectacle to rival any wildlife encounter on the planet. Streams of mullet flashed by being chased and devoured by rocket like dolphins. All this while flocks of pelicans dive-bombed from above. Close to the bottom the spinner sharks picked off the wayward baitfish. The underwater action became frantic. We exited to the surface on our kayaks as the spectacle continued. We watched several more groups on the surface and in the water. I even had a baby dolphins jump over the bow of my kayak. They seemed to enjoy showing us their superior water skills. They even followed us to play, jump, splash, and exhale their fishy breath on us.
Soon we noticed smaller dark patches further out. They were moving differently then the dark patches closer to shore. Upon approach I wasn’t sure what it was. Once over one of them, a large fin raised up nearly 3′ out of the water to my left (port). Out of the corner of my eye another one raised up to my right (starboard). I immediately knew the ocean was going to spice up my days’ experience. The mantas were in. These gentle giants majestically cruised about our kayaks, returning again and again to check us out. They displayed their cephalic lobes as they turned upward to get a closer look. Once we were sure they felt comfortable with us we slipped into the water to check them out. What a thrill! What an experience! Words can’t describe the surrealistic feeling and non-threatening communication between our 2 species. No physical contact, just visual, eye-to-eye.
In what seemed like minutes, 3 hours had passed and we covered over 3 miles. We headed back to our launch site by the inlet. On the way back in we spotted pelicans diving and dolphins surging up through the schools of baitfish. We knew the ocean had provided us with a rare treat.
Most people fear the water here during these times. We know it is a great opportunity for up close observation if you’re careful and respectful.
Some people feel that humans should not be up close to marine mammals and other majestic creatures of the sea. They act as if we are aliens to this planet. It is true we have a great impact on the ecology of this planet. But it isn’t the caring naturalist or ecotourist that has a detrimental effect. It is the agricultural runoff, the diverting of natural watersheds, over fishing by foreign commercial interests, the multitude of environmental pollutants throughout the world, and the extreme demands on our limited natural resources by the human population explosion that is hurting the Earth.
Think about it and enjoy what resources and freedoms we have left.