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Great white sharks lurked near swimmers, surfers 97% of the time in drone study

As great white sharks make their way back north to Cape Cod for the summer and fall, shark researchers have released “shocking” results from a 2-year drone study — showing that apex predators came very close to people, but simply moved around them or ignored them completely.

The study along southern California beaches looked at how close juvenile white sharks get to humans, such as waders, swimmers, surfers, and stand-up paddle boarders.

The researchers from Cal State Long Beach Shark Lab revealed that at juvenile white shark aggregation sites, people were near sharks on 97% of the days surveyed. And during the two-year drone study, there were no reported shark bites in any of the surveyed locations.

“Frankly, we were shocked,” Christopher Lowe, professor of marine biology and director of CSULB Shark Lab, told the Herald on Monday. “Sharks would interact with people every single day, multiple times a day, and they would just swim by.

“It was shocking that these occurrences were happening so often,” Lowe added. “And the fact that no one was being bitten smacks in the face of the misconception that if there’s a white shark nearby, you’ll be attacked. This shows that’s not the case.”

More than 1,500 drone surveys were conducted from 2019 through 2021 across 26 different southern California beaches to measure human-juvenile white shark habitat overlap.

The juvenile white sharks were often spotted within 50 yards of where the waves break, putting surfers and stand-up paddle boarders in the closest proximity to sharks. Some sharks were seen as close as 2 yards from the wave break.

“There were a number of times when white sharks would swim by people, and the people just didn’t know it,” Lowe said. “The surfers and swimmers could not see them, and it happens far more than people imagine.”

Lowe grew up on Martha’s Vineyard, when it was very rare to see a great white shark and when the gray seal population had not exploded along the Cape.

He compared the California shark situation to the Cape shark situation, noting that researchers have been starting to see more and more sharks popping up along southern California beaches in the last 20 years.

One major difference is Cape seals have claimed territory at beaches, bringing adult white sharks closer to people.

“That makes that a very different situation, but there’s still people going in the water and white sharks are still swimming by people on the Cape, and they aren’t being bitten,” Lowe said.

“There are a lot of opportunities to use drones along the Cape, and I think people would be surprised with what they see,” he added.

This method of surveillance using drone videography can also be used for future approaches for research, education, or overall beach safety purposes.

These findings are applicable on a global scale, providing confirmation of sharks and humans peacefully coinciding in the same location.

“I hope the state (of Massachusetts) does what California does and invests more in research,” Lowe said. “I think that will really help.”

Source: Orange County Register

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