President Trump’s frequent trips during the winter to his Florida property, Mar-a-Lago, sparked protests from nearby residents, ethics watchdogs and some elected officials.
But here’s something that’s mostly escaped public attention: The trips are also bad for sharks.
Stephen M. Kajiura, a professor of biological sciences at Florida Atlantic University, has conducted an aerial survey for the past seven years to record the abundance and migration patterns of blacktip sharks off southeast Florida. Tracking these creatures from Miami north to the Jupiter Inlet requires flying in a small plane at a low altitude, with a video camera positioned outside the plane recording their movements. And the president’s sprawling Palm Beach estate is “right along the survey path,” Kajiura said.
Each time Trump visits the locale that he’s dubbed the Winter White House, the Federal Aviation Administration issues a temporary flight restriction instituting a no-fly zone around Mar-a-Lago. Those restrictions grounded Kajiura’s flights, because his plane takes off from an airport within the no-fly zone, and he flies right over the resort.
Because the president traveled to the property seven times over the course of his first 11 weeks in office, it reduced the number of surveys that the marine biologist could take during that period by one-third.
“He has no idea that he’s doing it, but it does mean a significant reduction,” Kajiura said, hastening to add that he’s “not complaining” but does believe it represents the first time there has been “a direct imposition on data collection by a visiting president.”
These surveys, which typically occur once a week between December and May, have already produced significant findings. Kajiura and his colleagues are the first to document the density of blacktip sharks in the region — a popular site among college students as well as the commander in chief — and found there are more than 1,000 sharks per square kilometer.
Or, as Kajiura explained: If you went to a football field and started walking from one end to another, “you only have to go 18 yards out, and there would be a shark somewhere.”
Granted, Trump has expressed his distaste for sharks more than once, so he probably wouldn’t lose sleep over disrupting research on the ocean’s top predator. On July 4, 2013, he fired off multiple tweets denigrating the ancient species, writing, “Sharks are last on my list — other than perhaps the losers and haters of the World!”
And while he continued on this tear, he also acknowledged that the fish may beat humans when it came to the ultimate game of survival: “Sorry folks, I’m just not a fan of sharks — and don’t worry, they will be around long after we are gone.”
Kajiura said he recognizes that he would have faced the same problem if Hillary Clinton had been elected and suddenly decided to frequent the Palm Beach area. So he’s somewhat resigned to the idea, even though he’s hoping that things will be different next winter.
“I’ve got the feeling I’m going to experience this over the next three years,” he said, before adding that come January, he hopes Trump is “busy enough in D.C. that he doesn’t come down too much.”