REGION — As swimmers, surfers and beach enthusiasts flock to our local shores, so do the sharks.
News outlets and social media platforms have been filled with sightings, spottings, close calls and even an attack in recent months, begging the question: Why?
Are there more sharks than usual, or are we just better at noticing them? And if there is a population surge, then why?
A shark bit a Vista woman April 29 at San Onofre – sending her to a hospital in critical condition. The very next day, eight more sharks were spotted at Capistrano Beach.
Oceanside lifeguard officials closed down the city’s beaches north of the pier and harbor following a shark sighting three weeks ago. And on May 10, swimmers and paddle boarders in Dana Point were fortunate to have an Orange County Sherriff’s Department helicopter overhead, because they spotted 15 great white sharks only yards away from the group. We are well over the statistical average of shark sightings and attacks, so what gives?
Experts have hypotheses that could explain the surge in shark population. One theory posits that, because great whites have been a protected species for years, their population is growing. Another theory is that, like humans, sharks prefer shallow “hot spots” because that’s where the easy meals come from. Seals and sea lions — breakfast and lunch, to a shark — have been protected as well, so their populations have been similarly thriving.
Die-hard surfers are generally the last to leave the water, for any reason. “They’ve been there forever,” said Oceanside resident Jamey Stone, who has been surfing North County San Diego for the past three decades and said he is undaunted by the recent sightings.
“It’s just that now, because of cellphones and drones, we just see them more often — not to mention over-fishing.”
The other obvious question is what to do if you’re caught in the water, and you spot that telltale dorsal fin?
Ralph Collier, form the Shark Research Committee tells us the main thing to do is also the most difficult: don’t panic. “Try to keep sight of the shark at all times,” cautions Collier, “so you can determine if the shark’s movements are smooth and leisurely, or erratic and agitated.”
Collier’s information comes from a handy Q&A on Surfline.com : “If the latter,” he says, “move swiftly to shore, a rock, or even a floating kelp canopy. Adult white sharks tend to avoid kelp forests and canopy’s [SIC], and in fact several divers during the Twentieth Century escaped aggressive white sharks by using these two natural barriers.”
Even with the recent increase in apex predator appearances, it’s still unlikely that the average swimmer will have an incident. Just remember to keep your wits about you, and one eye on the environment.