Hundreds of sharks were recently sighted off central Florida’s west coast,prompting officials to warn swimmers and scientists to wonder what luredthem there.

Bull sharks, hammerheads and nurse sharks were among those spotted in theshallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico, northwest of Tampa. Some of the sharkswere up to 10 feet long. No one was bitten.

Terri Behling, a spokeswoman for Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, says it’s too early to speculate about what might be luring the sharks. She says it’s is not unusual for sharks to swim up and down the gulf coastline,following tarpon. But a congregation of so many different species isunusual, she adds.

The sharks have finally swum away, local police announced last week.Officers checked the area and found only a few sharks remaining, accordingto Sheriff’s Office spokesman Kevin Doll. “There does not appear to beanywhere near the numbers there were,” says Doll. Marine experts say thesharks had probably been feeding off schools of fish and may have gone southto warmer waters.

They plan to continue monitoring the area. Fears of shark attacks haveincreased along Florida’s Gulf coast after an eight-year-old boy wasattacked near Pensacola in July. The shark tore off the boy’s right arm butit was reattached by doctors and he was sent home.

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In Alaska, pilot Rod Judy almost collided in mid-air with a humpback whale.If he had taken off from Keku Islands seconds later than he did, he mightnot have lived to tell the story.

Judy, a commercial pilot, flew to the islands about 100 miles south ofJuneau last weekend to pick up two U.S. Forest Service employees and takethem to Petersburg. The floatplane was moving on the water at about 50 mphand was just about to lift off when a humpback whale suddenly breached infront of it. “We were just clearing the water, and right dead ahead of usthis thing came clear out of the water. We were staring right into the whale’s stomach,” says passenger Burl Weller. “It had to be at least 15 feetabove the airplane. You could see under his tail. He had air under his tail.”

Judy banked the plane to the left, and the whale fell off to the right.Weller estimates that the whale missed the wing of the plane by 10 feet, butJudy says it never posed a threat to the plane. Describing Weller’sreaction, he says, “The fellow in the front couldn’t even talk. He was justsputtering. It was impressive. You could see the whale’s eye. I’ve seen thembreach a lot. It’s common. But I’ve never seen one straight in front of theairplane that close. You wouldn’t think it would be deep enough for a whaleto get momentum to breach.”

From now on, breaching whales will officially go on record as a potentialhazard to aircraft. The Forest Service is distributing a notice to itsemployees nationwide to be on alert for whales when landing or taking off infloatplanes. Says Weller, “This is something that could happen again.Hopefully not. Once in a lifetime is enough. If the whale would havebreached one second later than what he did, we would have been his necklace.”

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In Ontario, an 8 year-old boy who was out fishing hooked a hug piranha withlarge white teeth in its lower jaw. He was fishing with his sister Sreejita,age 6, during a family outing when the exotic fish went for his bait.

“I was scared,” says Soumik’s mother Gitali, who watched her son reel thetoothy fish up out of the water. “Our friend who was there, he said it lookslike a sunfish. I said it’s not a sunfish because we catch sunfish everyweek.”

A nearby bait shop owner confirmed the fish’s species. “Yep, it’s apiranha,” said Mike Pettigrew. Before this, Soumik had planned to eat thefish for supper.

The piranha was caught in a portion of the Grand River that containssmallmouth bass, pickerel, trout, catfish, carp and mooneye-but no piranha.The piranha was probably a pet dumped from an aquarium when its owner gottired of it. “It happens more often people think,” says Bill Murch, acommunications officer with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources inGuelph, Ontario. “The species has little chance of survival over the winter.”

Jay Sherwin, the Invasive Species Program Coordinator for the OntarioFederation of Anglers and Hunters, agrees and says no records of piranhabeing caught in Ontario are kept “because they’re not expected to livethrough the winter.”

The federation has set up an invading species hotline (1-800-563-7711) tohandle calls from anglers who have caught non-native fish species. “We needstrengthened education programs to increase awareness of how detrimentalreleases of non-native fish can be to our natural fisheries and ecosystems,”Sherwin says.

Meanwhile, the piranha is in the Sengupta’s freezer waiting for an officialto pick it up for testing.

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A giant squid that would have been 16 feet long if all its tentacles wereintact was captured by Spanish fishermen trawling off the Azores. The squidwas recovered after its body became entangled in their fishing line. Thecrew on the Nuevo Zumaia froze it while at sea and brought it back to theSpanish port of Vigo last week to be examined by scientists.

Only about 300 of the species have been sighted and no one has seen onealive. The largest giant squid ever found, measuring 60 feet long andweighing a ton, was captured more than 100 years ago. Mario Rasero, abiologist at the Spanish Oceanographic Institute, describes them as “one ofthe sea’s last big mysteries.”

Giant squid are thought to live alone at depths of between 600 and 3,000feet. Occasionally they surface to feed on fish bait. After being studied,the specimen will be preserved in formaldehyde and exhibited in a museum.

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