JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. – Members of the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office air unit spotted three large sharks close to swimmers Sunday in Jacksonville Beach in what the officers called "the danger zone."
The sighting prompted a warning for swimmers between 13th and 16th avenues.
From above, the sharks appeared to be more than 5 feet long, a Sheriff's Office spokesperson said. JSO air units routinely scan the shoreline for dangerous marine life.
Witnesses said the sharks were within 50 feet of swimmers, who were warned and many got out of the water immediately.
"They are emigrating from the south this time of year and they are feeding on bait fish," surfer Timothy Methvin said.
Methvin's theory makes sense based on witness accounts. They said they saw more than three sharks, swimming in a school, headed north.
Jacksonville lifeguard Lt. Jason Caffey said sharks are present in the ocean more than people think.
"Reality is they are out there, and as a beachgoer, you should be aware of that," Caffey said. "Lifeguards keep their eyes out. If they start whistling (to) come in, there's a reason that they are doing it."
Caffey said anytime swimmers or surfers notice large schools of fish, it's likely there are sharks present nearby. From a shark's perspective human feet and hands in the water can look like food.
"It's more of curiosity. Sometimes they can't see. We have very murky water here in Florida, especially here in Jacksonville," Caffey said. "They're not trying to go after humans. They aren't human eaters."
Around the same time sharks were spotted in Jacksonville Beach, a great white attacked a professional surfer in South Africa.
Lifeguards said the rare but spine-chilling encounters should be a reminder to anyone in any ocean to be aware you might not be alone.
"That's just their home," Methvin said. "We're invading their territory."
The reality is that you have a better chance at hitting the lottery or getting hit by lighting than you have to actually be bitten by a shark, according to experts.
Shark experts add that we may be hearing more and more about shark attacks across the country, because more people are vacationing at the beach and going in the ocean, because the economy has improved.
Lifeguards said if you see something dangerous in the water, you should get out right away and alert a lifeguard. If there aren't any lifeguards on duty, call 911 and alert the people around you.