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UWF shark expert weighs in on recent sightings

The recent publicity of a website that tracks great white sharks has brought a lot of attention to the Gulf of Mexico.  But a shark expert with the University of West Florida says all types of sharks patrol the waters of the gulf, we're just more aware of it now.

It makes sense that swimming on the beach and sharks do not mix.  But when you talk to the folks that know these waters out here at Pensacola Beach, they'll tell you that sharks are a common site. Just because we can't see below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, doesn't mean there isn't something there.

Jason Peacock says he sees sharks often.  "Probably 4 out of 5 times when I've been out here I've seen some sharks."

Collin Hebert came from Louisiana to see some as well.  "I haven't seen any sharks yet, but I'm hoping to see some."

Lee Ray says it's not a big deal.  "It's just a part of life around here."

In fact, Dr. Erich Ritter says sharks are with us all the time.  "We have shark yearound.  The big ones, the small ones, so whenever you take your time and watch you're going to see some."

But he says despite their presence, there is nothing to fear.  "Don't worry about it.  You can hang out with every shark out there, even the great white.  It's a lot of fun."

Fun?  I'm not sure if I'd go that far.  Fishermen we spoke with say beachgoers probably have no idea how many sharks are actually in the water.

"It's interesting to look down and see the flock of people in the water, and you can see sharks amongst them, so it's pretty interesting and kind of scary."

Ritter says shark bites do happen, but they are extremely rare.  He estimates only about 100 per year worldwide, and most are superficial. 

"There's absolutely no fear when you see a shark.  The best thing I always suggest is stop moving.  I mean, don't try to swim away, don't try to walk away.  Just do nothing and let the animal, if it happens, let the animal come close and check you out.  But I guarantee you, nothing's going to happen."