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Study Shows Sharks Are Frequently Near Humans In Coastal Waters

A shark swimming off the coast of Southern California in this undated photo from CSU Long Beach Shark Lab.
CSU Long Beach Shark Lab
A shark swimming off the coast of Southern California in this undated photo from CSU Long Beach Shark Lab.

Swimming with the sharks. Whether you like it or not, if you’re going into the ocean off Southern California, that’s what you’re probably doing.

“In the summer you could have thousands of beachgoers sharing a beach with 20 or 30 juvenile white sharks,” marine biologist Chris Lowe said.

Study Shows Sharks Are Frequently Near Humans In Coastal Waters
Listen to this story by John Carroll.

Along with heading up Long Beach State’s Shark Lab, Lowe is also a professor of marine biology. He told KPBS there are a couple of reasons for the abundance of young white sharks off Southern California.

“Our beaches are the nursery for white sharks in the whole northeast Pacific.”

Lowe is working with colleagues here at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. They’re in the midst of a five-year study on sharks. They’re looking at when and where white sharks appear, and what circumstances lead to attacks, in order to improve beach safety.

“How many sharks are out there, how many people are out there, and when are sharks and people in the same place at the same time,” Lowe said.

Video: Good News for Sharks along Southern California Beaches

They’re using a couple of different methodologies, including drones. When the drones show several sharks in the same place as people, Lowe and his team alert lifeguards in the area.

But encounters with humans are extremely rare. The Shark Research Committee, which tracks shark activity on the West Coast, has only documented 100 shark attacks since 2000. Six of those were fatal.

Lowe and his team are tagging white sharks to track their movements, and those tags transmit valuable information.

RELATED: Shark Sightings Off Coronado Lead To Warnings For Beachgoers

“What we’re finding is the young ones hang out off a beach, and they may be there for a month, day and night, cruising back and forth along a mile stretch of beach. What we’re trying to figure out is why are they at this beach, and not this one or this one,” he said.

An underwater robot can then travel through the waters where the sharks are and measure different things like temperature, salinity and chlorophyll levels, the same information the sharks are probably using to decide where to hang out.

Back to the drones and the info they’ve provided as to why we shouldn’t freak out at the presence of young white sharks.

“Most of the sharks just don’t care," Lowe said. "They’re underneath people, they go by people… So far, they seem to kind of just ignore us,”

So, don’t cue the Jaws music. Instead, Chris Lowe said we can all be happy that conservation efforts over the years are paying off with the rebounding of the shark population and the increasing evidence that, despite the occasional awful accident, they’re content to do their thing and to let us do ours.