LONG BEACH, Calif. Groundbreaking research published last week shows how often sharks have been seen swimming near beachgoers in California who have no idea what’s lurking in the water below them, and it’s much more frequent than you might think.
The aerial surveys were conducted by California State University Long Beach (CSULB) graduate student Patrick Rex every month over a 2-year period along various beaches in Southern California, from Santa Barbara to San Diego, between January 2019 and March 2021.
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Juvenile Great White Sharks (JWS) use the populated beaches of Southern California as breeding habitat and have high concurrency with people.
And the research findings showed that sharks and people were found swimming together in the water 97% of the time, with most of the swimmers clueless, according to the study.
“Most people can’t see sharks when they’re at water level, but the drone picks them up pretty well,” said study author Dr. Chris Lowe, director of the Shark Lab at CSULB.
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What’s even more interesting is that during that staggering statistic of 97% sharks near swimmers, the number of unprovoked shark bites in that region is “extremely low.”
So low, that during the two-year study period, only one possible unprovoked minor shark bite was reported in all of Southern California at one of the aggregation sites.
According to the study, the incident was reported in the spring of 2020 when a swimmer said she was bitten by a marine animal and saw a JWS leave the area. However, the injury could not be confidently identified as being caused by a JWS.
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‘If we leave them alone, they leave us alone’
Lowe said he hopes this new study will change the way people think about sharks, and he’s already noticed people starting to do so.
“We have already noticed changes in the attitudes of many local surfers who know the sharks are there and keep an eye on them,” he said. “Some have even become quite protective of sharks.”
Lowe added that the main concern is that people try to view or film the sharks, which could lead to injury.
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“Chasing them could change their behavior and make them more defensive,” he said. Lowe went on to say that this new information shows that sharks are unwilling to attack humans.
“This study really dispels the myth that if a great white is around, it’s going to bite you,” he said. “We found that in these shark nurseries, sharks and people share waves every day without incident.”
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Lowe added that perhaps the recovery of the great white shark population near the area is a good thing and a sign that coastal waters are becoming healthier for sharks to thrive. “Our study shows that if we leave them alone, they leave us alone.”
And this study is also being used to keep people safe while enjoying the water. Hopefully California lifeguard agencies can adopt the findings to monitor beaches for shark activity.
The study says that Australia’s New South Wales Territory developed a Shark Smart program that similarly surveys local beaches to identify shark hotspots on local beaches.