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Video shows sharks near unsuspecting surfers and swimmers off Southern California coast

A video released Tuesday by Cal State Long Beach’s Shark Lab gives a look at how juvenile great white sharks act off the Southern California coast, often with humans swimming or surfing very nearby – and the footage indicates the sharks could really care less.

The latest findings are based on hours of drone footage shot in the past year, part of a two-year study funded by a state grant to research the mysterious sea creatures’ behavior.


Sharks have been showing up in greater numbers in the past five years, since an El Nino brought warm water and appealing conditions to the Southern California coastline. “Hot spots” of shark populations have formed close to shore in areas of the South Bay, Long Beach, Huntington Beach, Dana Point and San Clemente.

A number of long-term factors have at the same time helped the shark population rebound, including restrictions on catching the species and protections for their food sources. But with the great white sharks’ surge in population, researchers are trying to learn more about their behavior to educate ocean users up and down the coast so the two can co-exist successfully.

The short film was put together by Shark Lab graduate student Patrick Rex for his thesis studying juvenile white shark behavior when humans are nearby. It was edited with the help of fellow student Samantha Johnson.

The video was released as buzz is starting up around the popular SharkFest by National Geographic, which recently kicked off, and Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, which premiers in two weeks, with hopes of balancing out sensationalized shows and to change people’s perception of great white sharks as a threat, Shark Lab Director Chris Lowe said.

“It hopefully shows people that all the things they see with Shark Week don’t resonate, and even though these are the infamous white sharks we’ve heard about, we’re in their nursery all the time and we are able to share the waves,” Lowe said.

The footage was shot over the ocean from San Diego to Santa Barbra, including shark nursery grounds near the South Bay, Long Beach and Orange County. In the film, a calming melody created by student Ben Winwood was purposely paired with the footage that shows the sharks swimming next to, and at times under, surfers, paddleboarders and swimmers off the coast.

“It’s amazing how things change when you put different music to it, your perspective changes, they become graceful like dolphins. With Shark Week, everything is about anxiety, drama and threat,” Lowe said.  “This is the opposite. They are just another animal out sharing the environment. When you look at them in that context, they are serine, peaceful, graceful. You look at them and think: ‘That is amazing.’”

The Shark Lab is doing aerial surveys from San Diego to Santa Barbara using helicopters and drones. Photo shows students Emily Spurgeon, holding drone, and Patrick Rex. (Photo: Sean DuFrene / California State University, Long Beach)

There’s still, however, much data analysis that has to be done to quantify the behavior, Lowe said.

In the video, snippets show a swimmer calmly stroking in the glistening water with a shark nearby, while another clip  shows a group of surfers paddling for the same wave as a shark is darting for under their boards. Some clips show sharks get skittish and swim away when coming close up with humans.

“Most of these interactions are ‘passive,’” reads words superimposed on the video. “Remember, the ocean is their home. While enjoying the ocean, be a respectful guest…

“When you’re at the beach, always assume the locals are home.”

In most of the footage, the people who have been filmed don’t even know the sharks are present, Lowe said.

“If you’re out surfing and swimming, you can’t see them even if they are close,” Lowe said. “When you look at that, they really don’t seem to care about people.”

But, marine scientists are continuing to learn about the species, Lowe warns.

“We don’t know very much about their behavior,” he said. “But as long as people seem to leave them alone and ignore them, they seem to leave them alone. All that can change if people started messing with them.”

Even less is known about the older, larger sharks that live offshore, but in the hours of footage only one or two were spotted, Lowe said.

The larger sharks – when they get upward of 10 foot – are the ones that start to feed on marine mammals and are mostly the cause of the handful of shark bites that have happened along the coast.  But if you account for the millions of people who use the water each year, compared to how many shark bites have happened – mistaking humans for prey, statistically, doesn’t happen often, Lowe said.

“If you compare it to people, our mistake rate is way higher,” Lowe said. “We don’t see that malicious intent that is a lot of time the perception portrayed for sharks.”

Source: Orange County Register

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