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  • Writer's pictureGiuliana Vomero

Marine science and white sharks: a public safety issue.

Updated: Apr 27

White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias). Picture: Cram Foundation

White sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) are one of the biggest and most feared shark species in the world. It is also one of the species studied by Shark Lab at California State University, Long Beach in Southern California. Shark behavior and conservation research is valuable when making safety decisions to prevent shark attacks. Last August 2020, on a webinar called "Shark Science and Shark Safety", Shark Lab's scientists shared their insights and advice on this matter.

The white shark is a wide-ranging, solitaire species. It lives on temperature waters of the northwest Atlantic Ocean, Mediterranean Sea, southern Africa, southern Australia, New Zealand, and the northeast Pacific Ocean. White sharks are top predators in the ecosystem, and a protected species in California since 1994. The Shark Lab showed Southern California coast is a safe area for juvenile sharks in terms of predators' presence, food availability, and warm temperatures. Between April and October, San Barbara, Santa Monica, Long Beach, and Dana Pt/St Onofre are nursery grounds for white sharks. It means females and juveniles would gather around 90m from the wave break point.

White shark - Picture: Cram Foundation

As more people go on beach days and practice water sports in California, humans and sharks are sharing the same shoreline. Surfers are expected to be near the wave breaking point catching for waves. Even though on average, two to five shark attacks yearly in South California, there is an interest from scientists and lifeguards to understand shark behaviors and advice on beach safety together.

Shark Lab shared their insight with lifeguards in many ways. The one recently tested was text messages. After scientists tagged a shark, they collect real-time data on where it is and its moving pattern. When data shows sharks are near the beach, they send a warning message to lifeguards. So, lifeguards can prevent surfers from entering the water or be on alert.

Dr Lowe also studied and understood white sharks' body language. On the webinar, he shares:

"A predator, like sharks, relies on stealth, it knows the gig is up when is being watched. You should always track the shark and keep your eyes on it. Even if you do not have your head underwater, moving your board in its direction makes the shark think is being observed, and might get bored and stop chasing you. Also, if you lose sight of the shark, always look behind you."

If a shark is swimming actively, meaning it swims fast, in circles, going back and forward, it is eager to find prey. That's when surfers and swimmers need to get out of the water as soon as possible to prevent any accidents.

Always be aware of your surroundings when surfing. Picture: Wix bank image.

Another tool that will be tested soon is a shark DNA sampling kit. If shark DNA can last on water samples, tell how many sharks are there, and be detected near shore with real-time sampling, it would give a tool for lifeguards to know what is underwater before starting the day. This is a technique that is further research but promised to be an innovative solution.

Shark Lab also designed an educational flyer in both English and Spanish to report their research's insight with advice on how to encounter white sharks and behave on the beach. This can be found around South California beaches but is worthy to share worldwide.

Another great example of how marine science research, collaboration, and communication are at the service of the community and shark conservation.

Shark safety educational flyer by CSULB Shark Lab

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