Marco Island News, Shark Fishing Time 

When Pasco County Sheriff's spokesman Kevin Doll issued a shark alert Tuesday morning for the gulf waters west of the Gulf Harbors subdivision, he set off a feeding frenzy. A media feeding frenzy, that is.

TV news helicopters buzzed the skies, and the footage was beamed across the country courtesy of CNN. Photographers climbed aboard a 17-foot motorboat piloted by a sheriff's deputy. And a Times reporter commissioned a fellow reporter's husband to whisk her around the sandy beaches of Anclote Key.

"We're not trying to sensationalize it," Doll said. "We knew, in light of recent high profile shark attacks and just the fact of humans' fascination with sharks, that it would have a high media interest."

Doll said he wanted to warn swimmers and boaters after a marine patrol deputy noticed hundreds of sharks swimming in the gulf this week. Marine Patrol Officer Don Deso was surprised by the number of sharks and their size -- he said he spotted one that was 10 feet long. The other thing that was unusual, Deso said, was that several different kinds of sharks were swimming together. He saw black-tip, nurse, spinner and hammerhead sharks.

Today, Deso and another deputy will again fly a helicopter over Anclote Key to determine whether the school of sharks still is swimming around. Scientists from the Mote Marine Laboratory's Center for Shark Research in Sarasota might come to the area to investigate what is attracting the sharks.

Deso and other shark experts speculate that the sharks are drawn to the area because they are eating tiny fish that swim in the warm water.

Dr. Steve Branstetter, a fisheries management specialist for the National Marine Fisheries Service in St. Petersburg, said it is not uncommon for sharks to "school up" near the gulf shores.

"A lot of times, sharks are present and people don't even see them," he said.

From the air, as many as 40 sharks could be seen swimming around the shallow water west of the sand bar north of Anclote Key.

The sharks were spread out over the length of the sand bar -- about a half of a mile. They mostly congregated around long, narrow bands of seaweed and small fish.

By noon, the cluster of sharks was starting to break up and head west, toward deeper, cooler waters.

James Bellino, 29, of New Port Richey didn't see any sharks as he and his four buddies spent the day boating and drinking beer. Bellino had been swimming, but quickly got out when another boater told him that the waters were infested with sharks.

"I'm not gonna swim if they're out there," said Bellino. "It's their area."


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