Kimberly Blair / Pensacola News Journal
ORANGE BEACH, Al - The threat of sharks lurking in large numbers in the shallows off Alabama Point in Perdido Pass seems to have ended.
Only two sharks were spotted during a surveillance flight Tuesday morning, said Melvin Shepard, beach safety director.
And double red flags have been taken down along a 1-mile stretch of beach along Orange Beach, Ala., that's been closed since Saturday.
"They're always out there," Shepard said. "We hope we don't' have that large number again."
In one photo Shepard examined, he counted 18 sharks in a very small area. At one point, a pilot said he estimated up to 100 sharks were clustered in the area, Shepard said.
"That's unconfirmed," he said. "That's why I did not mention it before, because I did not see that. When you start estimating numbers, people can overestimate."
Lifeguards remain vigilant looking out for sharks. And Shepard said he'll rely on reports from a tour helicopter and airplanes flying advertising banners along the coast to keep tabs on the shark situation.
Shepard, however, warned that not all risks to swimmers have abated.
The double red flag has been replaced by a red flag warning beachgoers of the risk of high surf and dangerous rip currents.
"We advise people to stay out of the water," he said.
Unlike Pensacola Beach where a red flag means the Gulf is closed to all swimmers, expert swimmers may go into the Gulf during red flag conditions at Orange Beach, Shepard said.
Renowned shark expert Erich Ritter says there is nothing unusual about the sharks congregating in Orange Beach.
"These aggregations happen periodically among many species," he said. "It is mostly because of feeding or mating. So nothing to worry about."
Ritter is the only professional applied shark-human interaction specialist, who lives part time in Pensacola when he's not lecturing or conducting research around the world or teaching at his SharkSchool in the Bahamas.
He does suggest keeping an eye out for clustering, though, as Orange Beach public safety officials are doing.
"And of course should someone end up among them (groups of sharks), reduce motion to a minimum and wait, but do not try swimming away or out of the aggregation," he stressed. "That sounds weird, I know, but the less sound, the less motion, the more they go on (with) their business."