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Sharks Attracting Attention In San Diego Waters

Evening Edition

Above: A large opportunistic underwater predator has caught the attention of San Diego divers this year. There’s been a spike in the number of broadnose sevengill shark sightings this year. The creatures can grow to 11 feet long and they don’t scare easily and KPBS video journalist Katie Euphrat took her camera on a dive with the sharks just off La Jolla Cove.

Aired 6/4/13 on KPBS News.

A large underwater predator has the attention of San Diego divers. There's been a spike in the number of sevengill shark sightings since January.

— Rod Watkins pulls his diving gear out of his pickup and lugs it to Scripps Park in La Jolla.

For him, this is a regular ritual.

After three trips, he and a partner start to gear up. Half an hour later, they are walking down the stairs to the ocean. It's a crisp, clear morning above the water. Watkins is hoping for the same below.

Watkins runs Scuba San Diego and he's dived here for nearly five decades.

Rod Watkins of Scuba San Diego

He says this is an extraordinary year in the ocean waters of the coast of San Diego. That's because large sevengill sharks are increasingly visible. Watkins says he'd typically only seen one or two a year.

"The difference today is, we're seeing so many more sevengill sharks that it's kind of phenomenal," said Watkins. He said it is not uncommon to dive down into a group of the sharks.

Their size alone makes them intimidating. Watkins says the sharks slice effortlessly through the water on the ocean floor. They are silent, bold and big. Female sevengills can grow to 11 feet long. And they appear to know they are the biggest bully on the block.

Greg Amptman

"The sevengills, they won't move out of the way for anybody," said Watkins. "They will cruise right up to you, right up around you."

Under the surface of the water near La Jolla Cove, long strands of kelp rise up from the ocean floor to the surface. They sway gently with the waves, serving as a living welcome sign for lots of ocean species.

This is a biologically rich area and the sevengills are a small piece in the local ecological puzzle.

"These sharks tend to like kelp forests, bays, fairly shallow water," said John Hyde, a marine biologist at NOAA.

There is plenty of food. The larger sharks feed on seals and sea lions and both of those animals are common here. The sharks thrive in near-shore areas from Alaska to the tip of Baja California, but until recently, sightings were considered rare and were infrequent. But they do make an impression.

"Their dorsal fin is very far back on the shark, so they don't look like your typical shark," said Hyde. "Most sharks have a dorsal fin about mid-body. These are further back towards the tail. So they look a lot more prehistoric with this long tail, kind of weirdly placed dorsal fin. "

Sevengills are not considered a threat to people. They haven't bitten anyone in San Diego waters. But research indicates they are big and they are aggressive if provoked.

But what the researchers do not know is how many sharks there are and if the population is up.

"We're not sure if there's a change in effort. More people with cameras. More people looking for these sharks, that's causing us to hear about them more often," said Hyde. "Or whether there actually are more. I think it's a combination of both."

Lida Chaipat

The sharks have captured the attention of San Diego diver Michael Bear. He had a close encounter while diving with a friend off Point Loma.

"I looked over and all of a sudden this magnificent nine-foot sevengill swam right between us. It was just like that. Two feet away. I could have reached out and touched it," said Bear.

Bear wants to find out more about sevengill sharks. He has set up a web page and is urging local divers to upload pictures, information about encounters and videos.

"This is a female sevengill," said Bear as he points to the computer screen in his home office. "And, as you can see, she came very close to the diver."

Bear considers himself a citizen scientist.

Michael Bear

He has diligently collected information in an effort to understand the species and would like to know how many sevengill sharks live here. He's trying to launch an effort to identifying the sevengills who've been photographed and filmed in local waters.

"We hope in the years coming, to be able to identify individual sevengill sharks with the unique freckling pattern on their bodies," said Bear.

Pattern recognition software might help with that.

Meanwhile, Bear continues to collect, document and organize the underwater encounters. So far, he has gathered 50 videos and more than 150 photos.

Bear hopes to spark interest in the local marine research community so more will be known about a prehistoric creature that's thriving in San Diego's near-shore habitat.

Comments

Avatar for user 'wchung'

wchung | June 4, 2013 at 8:01 a.m. ― 1 year, 3 months ago

Great report. I am glad non-divers are getting a chance to share in our incredible encounters with these seven gill sharks. To see my complete encounters with these magnificent creatures, you can view my videos at these links: https://vimeo.com/65992683 and https://vimeo.com/64473158.

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Avatar for user 'Bill_Powers'

Bill_Powers | June 4, 2013 at 8:31 a.m. ― 1 year, 3 months ago

Very good read. Having seen these beauties for well over two decades in the Cove (and off other parts of our coast) I expect the increase in sightings is very much as Mr Hyde explained, an increase in divers & divers with cameras, as well as an increase in their numbers. Keep in mind though, even a small increase in seven gill numbers means a LOT more sightings... and doesn't necessarily mean an abundance. Sharks are slow to mature and have few offspring. Losing even a few of these residents could decimate the local populations. Kudos to Mike Bear for recognizing the need for baseline studies and asking the local scientific community for action.

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Avatar for user 'JeanMarc'

JeanMarc | June 4, 2013 at 8:59 a.m. ― 1 year, 3 months ago

I hope they eat all of the seals.

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Avatar for user 'sll'

sll | June 4, 2013 at 9:16 a.m. ― 1 year, 3 months ago

Maybe the sharks should eat some selfish humans...

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Avatar for user 'Bill_Powers'

Bill_Powers | June 4, 2013 at 9:27 a.m. ― 1 year, 3 months ago

Actually, the seven gills (and the Topes) are great examples of co-existence. How many snorkelers and distance swimmers at the Cove have swum right over the top of these creatures for DECADES and not even known it. These sharks have little-to-no interest in us at all... unless we're foolish enough to be trailing bloody bait on a line behind us (spearos).

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Avatar for user 'JeanMarc'

JeanMarc | June 4, 2013 at 10:04 a.m. ― 1 year, 3 months ago

What is selfish about humans? Is it selfish of us to go in the ocean? Is it selfish of humans to exist? We are the pinnacle of the animal kingdom, we ruled the land and seas. I don't understand what is selfish about that. Are lions selfish for eating zebras in Africa?

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | June 4, 2013 at 11:19 a.m. ― 1 year, 3 months ago

@sll, LOL I hope in marky's case they would. (lol, jk)

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Avatar for user 'JeanMarc'

JeanMarc | June 4, 2013 at 4:22 p.m. ― 1 year, 3 months ago

Very funny. Too bad they wouldn't eat me, because I am not a selfish human.

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Avatar for user 'cary'

cary | June 5, 2013 at 6:36 a.m. ― 1 year, 2 months ago

I'm surprised Mr Anderson claims divers have never been harmed by Sevengill sharks when a spearfisherman was bitten by one two years ago outside the Childrens pool while carrying a small fish on his belt. It was reported by local TV news and in the UT. Many divers have experienced aggressive behavior by these sharks including being charged and bumped by them.
Many spearfishermen know thses sharks to be competitive foe and watch their backs when sighted. They often sheer large white seabass (40 to 50 pounds) in half after being speared.
They may seem interesting and docile while at the cove where they congregate in large numbers but when they are hunting for food they are dangerous.
A local tour operator videotaped a Sevengill regurgitating a large patch of Seal skin, so they do enjoy marine mammals as well.
If KPBS wants to accurately report the activities and behavior of these sharks, instead of a fluff piece, they should contact more active divers such as those from San Diego Freedivers, SD Expeditions and LA Fathomiers.

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Avatar for user 'Bill_Powers'

Bill_Powers | June 5, 2013 at 8:10 a.m. ― 1 year, 2 months ago

I heavily dispute Cary's assertion re the danger of seven gills. Rank and file divers have little-to-nothing to fear from these residents of the Cove (and elsewhere). Certainly, of course, all marine life is to be respected and not provoked. No attacks have occurred here on anyone other than spearos. And I have to say: Anyone who trails bloody, just-killed fish from their person or a nearby float... or introduces fish blood into the water column in any manner... has nothing to complain about when a shark comes-a-callin'. That, sir, is no commentary on the aggressive or non-aggressive nature of a shark. (By the way: How many spearos, even, have been seriously attacked by a seven gill in the last five decades? I believe I could use the fingers on one hand to tally that number... and not need a few digits. {Wet suit tears by gap-toothed, hillbilly sharks do not count.)

Bumps by a shark have indeed occurred (has happened to me a few times over the decades), but doesn't necessarily indicate aggression. It could just as well indicate curiosity or the fact you didn't get out of their way as they were meandering along their path. (They tend not to veer course for anyone or anything.) Too, it's worth noting again that any bumps that have occurred, on rank and file divers, have not ended with anything close to an "attack".

Everyone should let their common sense and logic rule here. Someone complaining because a seven gill followed them around as they swam with bleeding BAIT on their line/float does not get to trumpet a sharks "aggression". Really now.

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Avatar for user 'JeanMarc'

JeanMarc | June 5, 2013 at 8:33 a.m. ― 1 year, 2 months ago

do sevengills swim around bumping into rocks and sandy shores that happen to be in their path?

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Avatar for user 'butcher'

butcher | June 5, 2013 at 10:58 a.m. ― 1 year, 2 months ago

There are way too many sevengills. While I am torn because I am sure that they probably eat baby seals. I do believe we need to start fishing them more heavily.

They are aggressive. They do bite.

They may have been the cause of death of that surfer last month as well. They called it a drowning and speculate that the sevengills took a bite after death, but I don't buy it. The guy was in good health out for an afternoon session. He ends up dead with a shark bite.

I will be fishing them. Besides, they taste good!

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Avatar for user 'butcher'

butcher | June 5, 2013 at 12:28 p.m. ― 1 year, 2 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | June 5, 2013 at 1:06 p.m. ― 1 year, 2 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

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Avatar for user 'JeanMarc'

JeanMarc | June 5, 2013 at 2:26 p.m. ― 1 year, 2 months ago

The ocean IS our domain, as well as the land. We are humans, we used technology to conquer the whole earth, land, sea, and air. We rule it all.

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Avatar for user 'butcher'

butcher | June 5, 2013 at 2:39 p.m. ― 1 year, 2 months ago

CaliforniaDefender try defending humans instead of our food sources

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | June 5, 2013 at 3:49 p.m. ― 1 year, 2 months ago

Butcher,

Really? You'll wither away without a steady supply of sevengill shark meat?

You do know that humans don't need meat to live, right? In fact, it's unhealthy. The only reason modern humans eat meat is for taste not nourishment.

Try a few meals without meat and you might find your life has just been improved.

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Avatar for user 'JeanMarc'

JeanMarc | June 5, 2013 at 4:03 p.m. ― 1 year, 2 months ago

I'm with butcher on this one. Animals = food.

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Avatar for user 'butcher'

butcher | June 5, 2013 at 5:02 p.m. ― 1 year, 2 months ago

Lack of animal protein equals insanity. Look at all of those weirdo vegans out there. Feed them some rare steaks and shark meat for a week and they will turn totally normal.

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Avatar for user 'RegularChristian'

RegularChristian | June 5, 2013 at 9 p.m. ― 1 year, 2 months ago

At a certain level, animal populations are the proverbial canaries in the coal mine.

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | June 6, 2013 at 12:06 p.m. ― 1 year, 2 months ago

"Lack of animal protein equals insanity." -Butcher

===

So you don't eat meat?

Meat consumption is not just unnecessary but unnatural.

Humans don't posses the claws or teeth to tear flesh. Nor are we physically strong or quick enough to chase and kill just about any prey out there.

Humans are naturally herbivores which is why eating meat shortens your life.

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Avatar for user 'DeLaRick'

DeLaRick | June 7, 2013 at 7:32 a.m. ― 1 year, 2 months ago

Not to get too off topic, but hasn't anyone ever looked at the canines in human mouths and wondered how they contributed to our evolution? There are teeth in our mouths which work fine for berries and grains, but canines appear to have developed especially for tearing flesh.

Go seven gills!

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