What is to be made of all the shark attacks in Southern California? Recently there has been over 25 shark sightings along Southern California beaches. From the beaches in Los Angles on south to Northern San Diego County beaches like San Onofre. We are wondering why these shark sighting and very unfortunate attacks don’t happen more frequently?
What we know about sharks
As most watermen know, sharks are fish, and like other fish they too live in the ocean and yes, they sometimes mistake humans for food. Living on the California coast one might think that shark attacks are for those beaches north of Point Conception and you would be right. There are many, many more “attacks” up north for many reasons but mainly migration routes of White sharks involving food and environment.
The debate over why sharks are suddenly more active
Seasoned lifeguards and fishery managers alike argue that because humans have been extensively over protective of seals and sea lions since the 1970‘s, the population of these marine mammals has skyrocketed. So, some contend that the food source for these sharks has been discovered and sharks are now visiting our local water ways more and more often.
Southern California a rookery?
The waters of Southern California are known as one of the biggest of three Mako shark rookeries in all the oceans. Mako’s are well known to offshore fishermen in California for being one of the most badass fish in the sea. They have speed and precision in their movements. White and Mako sharks are in the same family Lamnidae. This family also includes Salmon sharks and Thresher sharks. Mako’s like to feed on smaller fish and occasionally seals, primarily well offshore and away from swimmers, but spear fishermen that dive offshore frequently encounter these apex predators. White sharks seem to explore a wider variety of diet including; fish, skates, and rays, which bring them to shallow water and into the swim/surf zone.
Facts about sharks
The White sharks that are flooding our news and media streams lately are in fact migrating within their normal breeding patterns. Just ask an avid watermen or checkout websites like Trackingsharks.com show that sharks visit our areas more often then we think. They are not on the hunt for surfers, swimmers, or body surfers. Just ask your local lifeguard, they are not out to get us like the movies suggest. They have strong senses that help them to identify what is around them. They use their sixth sense of electrical detection, the Ampullae of Lorenzini, and pressure sensors of the lateral line, to detect vibrations from movement around them, when the water visibility is low.
Sharks also have impeccable eyesight. They can see great distances underwater and the eyesight of these big fish is that of seven times better than humans. Sharks possess nocturnal animal eyes similar to cats and dogs, which allow more light to be filtered in, so they can see in low light environments. In clear water sharks can identify from sight that you are not a seal. However, your chances of being “attacked” are increased if you look like food i.e swim fins, on surfboard, and splashing erratically, which often lifeguards do. White sharks are most likely just curious about what this human shaped creature is and might try what is referred to as “mouthing” to investigate further by touching and tasting. Juvenile sharks are by far the most curious and thus the most common “attackers” on humans. Once they have had a small bite, which might be part of a limb or possibly fatal bite, the sharks know that you are not a tasty meal, or may have left their mark of dominance of their hunting grounds, and leave the scene of the “attack”. This is characteristic of white sharks and other sharks in the family, if you get attacked by a bull or tiger shark… good luck.
As a fishery biologist stay with me here, and let me ramble further to say that these “attacks” in the media are hardly attacks for a shark. When a shark attacks, it has fully sized up the victim, and decided that it is worth the effort, as the shark uses vital energy to quickly and forcefully surge thousands of pounds from the depths to the surface, to take a driving bite to instantly paralyze the seal or prey. This back-snapping action insures the shark can enjoy its catch without struggle or a fighting bite in return.
Sharks can fly. Mako’s can jump up to thirty feet in the air! It is a sight to see! This is an attack! It is extremely rare to see this activity with humans. Most of the “attacks” on humans are because the shark is simply grazing, sometimes fatally with their teeth out of curiosity or dominance. It is the body shock and massive blood loss from the numerous rows of teeth that can be fatal due to this investigative nibble.
Stay comfortable in the water
Don’t worry mates, don’t go sell your entire quiver just yet. Statistically speaking you have a greater chance of a cow killing you, than death by a shark. Annually deer’s kill 130 people a year, jellyfish 40, ants 30, cows 22, hippos 2,900, horses 20, and sharks 5! The ocean is a more comforting place to be hanging out from our prospective. The ocean is home to many predators and when one niche of the environment is flourishing with a good food source there will be more apex predators there to take advantage of it. When entering the ocean, you the avid watermen, or lifeguard are knowingly accepting the risks involved. It’s always been shark-y out there, it’s the ocean after all!