Hiking with Hailey: Celebrating Shark Week at Gulf State Park
Alabama’s beachy state park is joining in on one of the world’s biggest crazes, and giving guests a chance to (safely) get up close and personal with sharks!
GULF SHORES, Ala. (WSFA) - For many Alabamians, taking a trip to the beach is a part of their summer routines, but did you know there’s more to Gulf Shores than just soaking up the sun? For this week’s episode of Hiking with Hailey, we’re catching some rays at Gulf State Park.
Located on the coast of Alabama, Gulf State Park has two miles of beach – but that isn’t the only attraction you should give your attention to. There’s also hiking, biking, and plenty of other activities that lure visitors back to the shoreline.
“We have so many ecosystems and so much variety at this park, ranging from our beautiful white sandy beaches to maritime forest to pine savannahs, so it’s definitely a gem with that,” said Johanna Gertsch, who is a naturalist at Gulf State Park.
For the fifth time in the park’s history, Gulf State Park is partnering with some of the best in the business to join in on a global saltwater craze: Shark Week!“
Gulf State Park partnered with Alabama Marine Resources to provide a touch tank full of Atlantic rays for visitors. Mississippi State also made the trip to Gulf Shores to share some of their educational tools, such as preserved shark specimens and shark dissection demonstrations designed to help visitors safely get up close and personal with the animals. Most of the exhibits were geared towards children, which Gertsch said was a huge success.
“We’ve seen so many kids, and just giving them the opportunity to come up and touch a ray, being able to see what the inside of a shark looks like and learn more about how everything works has just been wonderful for all the kids,” she said.
Saltwater anglers do have the opportunity to hook one of these predators at Gulf State Park; black tip and spinner sharks are the most common, but there have been sightings of hammerhead sharks that have been caught off the pier.
Of course, a shark’s natural habitat is in the water, and while it can be scary coming face to face with these toothy tyrants, Gertsch says it’s important for visitors to educate themselves in order to protect the ones in the wild.
“[Sharks] are what we call keystone species. They’re apex predators at the top of the food chain, and by having healthy shark populations, it really impacts everything else that we have below them. By keeping their populations healthy, we make sure we have balanced ecosystems all throughout the gulf,” said Gertsch.
As we’ve learned, sharks are an important park of the ecosystem at Gulf State Park, but if these predators aren’t your jam, you can take a break from the beach right across the street at one of Gulf State Park’s three lakes, which I’ll tell you all about next week on Hiking with Hailey!
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