Santa Barbara- S County

Shark expert weighs in on recent great white sightings

Shark expert weighs in on recent...

Summer marks the beginning of shark season in Southern California, and several local 'credible' sightings may be proof.

Dr. Chris Lowe said he's done dozens of interviews over the last several weeks because of the spike in shark activity up and down the coast. Lowe is is a professor in marine biology and director of the Shark Lab at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB).

Lowe said during the season, adult female white sharks which have been out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean migrate back to our coastline and give birth to their young.

"So we know that Southern California is a nursery for white sharks for the Northeast Pacific," Lowe said. "We know that many of our coastal beaches are an important nursery habitat for those sharks."

The juvenile sharks are about 5 feet long when they are born and grow about a foot each year for the first three years.

The young sharks tend to gravitate towards the shore because, according to Lowe, "they are naive".

"They get no training from mom on how to avoid predators or how to find food. They have to learn to do that all on their own. The reason they come to the shoreline, that's a safe place, there are fewer large predators," he said. "There is an abundant source of easy to capture prey for them, which just so happen to be stingrays, which we have a lot of on our beaches."

Just in the last week, at least three juvenile sharks were spotted in Carpinteria and another was was sighted near Haskell's Beach in Goleta.

The reason for the recent increase in sightings may be due to the increase in the white shark population. California protection laws instituted in 1994 and the recovery of the marine mammal population, an important food source for sharks,  are two reasons for the increase.

"People living in California and using ocean for last 50 years, just aren't used to seeing this many sharks around," Lowe said. "It's a good thing. It shows that we can bring a population back that was over fished, but we do need to get used to sharing waves with animals that use that as their home."

Lowe said juvenile sharks, less than 7 feet in length, do not pose much of a threat.

Adult sharks are usually found further offshore, but can come closer to shore along the Santa Barbara County coastline because of their proximity to the Channel Islands, which is a prime feeding habitat for them.

Carpinteria beaches may have more shark activity because of the resurgence of the harbor seal population at the Harbor Seal Preserve and rookery. 

"We know adults will cruise by that area because it's close to the Channel Islands, and will try to feed on harbor seals. We don't think those sharks stay. We think they cruise by," Lowe said. That's something we have to get used to because if the white shark population is increasing they are going to go where the food is."

Lowe said the ocean is safe, but wild and ever-changing and people need to remember to be "ocean smart"'.

Shark season started in May, and will peak in late-July. Sharks will start to migrate south for the winter in October.

To learn more about sharks and their behavior from CSULB's Shark Lab, click here.


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