Back on the tram we headed back to the info Center. As we traveled through the sawgrass prairie our guide turned to the landscape. The birds and alligators were still there but it was time to learn about the land. We stopped at a mound covered with trees where she explained that this was “Tree Island”. During the wet season it is surrounded by water but the canopy of the trees on the island keep the interior dry and the shade makes it cool. Everything from animals like Florida Panthers, deer, alligators and even humans use these tree islands for shelter. Large tree islands doubled as homes for the native Florida Indians. There is room on the interior for small campfires and dry for sleeping.
Moving on we passed the skeleton of a dead gator and an anhinga looking for a mate. You can tell when an anhinga is ready to mate by the colored circle around its eye. When they are searching for a mate the color of the circle becomes a brilliant color.
Then she asked the million dollar question…why is this area called Shark Valley? As we looked around it didn’t look like a valley. The land looked pretty flat and there certainly wasn’t enough water for sharks. But that’s where we were about to be corrected.
According to the guide Shark Valley is really a valley. To get to the coast you really have to go uphill. The rise may be slight and not that noticeable but it is there. Therefore this area does meet the definition if a valley: 1.low-lying area: a long low area of land, often with a river or stream running through it, that is surrounded by higher ground
Ok so it’s a valley but where does the shark part come into it? The Everglades is not a swamp. The water is not stagnant. It is a slow-moving river filled with vegetation, hence the name “river of grass”, but it’s a wide shallow river still the same. And rivers go somewhere. The Everglades eventually connects to the sea. At the junction where the fresh water Everglades meets the salt water of the sea an area of brackish water exists. Here salt water crocodiles mingle with fresh water American alligators. It is the only place in the world where these 2 species exist side by side. And it is here that bull sharks enter the valley.
Bull sharks are unique in the shark/fish world in that they can survive in both fresh and salt water. So in the brackish water where the ocean and fresh water meet, bull sharks come to hunt. The lower end of this valley connects to the ocean and creates that unique environment. Early settlers saw the sharks and the name Shark Valley stuck.
I attempted an internet search to confirm this explanation but so far my preliminary results have come up empty so I pass this along as a story told by our guide. It rings true to me. Florida is higher at the coast than the interior and bull sharks do survive in both fresh and salt water. That has been confirmed in many places of the world. So Welcome to Shark Valley. Definitely a place to visit when you get a chance.