Sharks in South Orange County

So this is my very first blog.  I've been threatening to start for a while now but what finally inspired me to get off my butt and make today the day is the recent shark sightings right off our coastline.

You've no doubt heard of the numerous shark sightings from Doheny to San Onofre.  It's hard to miss this detail.  Just turn on the tv, check in to social media or head to the beach and see the posted signs.  Heck, I even have one of those signs in my living room (hmmm, how'd that get there).  Anyhow, we've gotten lots of calls from concerned customers about how safe it is to paddle and sail... in the ocean... with sharks!  

Yes, there are sharks in the ocean.  And yes, there always have been sharks in the ocean.  Should you be concerned?  Perhaps.  But you should be more concerned of bee stings, damaging UV rays, and not wearing a life jacket! The sharks are not waiting for you to enter the water so they can attack.  This isn't what they do.  And if you don't believe me, check out this awesome youtube video that Charles Wardle posted from his kayak. Yes, he and a buddy paddled over to the shark to get a closer look.  "Oh!  You mean it's not like JAWS the movie".  No, sorry to disappoint. 

Trust me, we are not going to put you out on the water in conditions that are not safe.  And if you've been paddling or sailing with us, you know how safety conscious we are. Yes, there ARE risks when you go boating.  There are also risks when you get behind the wheel of a car.  Life is a calculated risk.  But in my experience, you're going to regret not living.  

For some great information, check out this article in Forbes magazine posted by paleontologist and Forbes contributor, Shaena Montanari:

Summer is almost here, but great white sharks are getting the party started early in Southern California. Over the past few weeks, dozens of sharks have been spotted off popular beaches around San Clemente and San Onofre leading both residents and scientists to wonder: are there really more sharks this year?

Christopher Lowe, professor of marine biology and director of the Shark Lab at California State University Long Beach, says the answer is not so simple. “This is the beginning of what we call shark season in Southern California. White sharks give birth to their babies and the babies hang out along coastal regions,” he explains.

Shark season is usually from May to October, ending when the sharks head down to Mexico as the oceans cool around California. They come back again when it gets warm enough. But this year, plenty of white sharks have been showing up early, which Lowe calls unusual.
In general though, white shark populations are increasing, which is a good thing. “The numbers are going up over time because white sharks have been protected from fishing. Their numbers are increasing, we’ve been seeing more and more each year.”

The public’s relationship with sharks can often be contentious, and after a serious shark attack at the end of April on San Onofre State Beach, tensions remain high when there are lots of sharks in the water. This past weekend the beaches were closed after some sharks spotted measured over 10 feet long, meaning they aren’t the young ones that are generally friendly.

Local lifeguards heed the scientific advice of shark biologists like Lowe and immediately get people out of the water when a white shark sighting is confirmed, but usually only if they are over 8 feet long. “Once they get a little big bigger they become a bit less shy,” Lowe says.

Lowe and his colleagues from the Shark Lab often spend their mornings riding up to sharks on a jet ski when they are spotted overhead by the local law enforcement helicopter. When the researchers get close, they dart the shark with a tiny tracker that hangs off like an earring. As the sharks swim by underwater receivers, the team can track their movements and see which beaches they like to hang out at.

Why are there so many sharks coming into shore this time of year? It is likely a combination of factors. One reason is that the protected beach is safer than the open ocean. Another is that there is a lot of food for sharks, like stingrays, now that more top predators have been removed from the ecosystem. And the last reason is that it is just warmer. Sharks usually migrate to Mexico, but during strong El Niño years, they continue to hang around the California beaches because the water doesn’t get too cold. As climate warms, it is likely more sharks will be hanging out close to shore on a regular basis.

Should people stay out of the water this summer? Not necessarily. Humans need to learn how to live with sharks. Lowe explains people are just getting used to sharing the ocean with large predators since their numbers are finally recovering after decades of exploitation. “It’s not that we want people to fear the predators, it’s just that they need to understand them better and respect their boundaries.”


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Brandon Frese
Brandon Frese
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