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Juvenile white shark sightings on the rise in San Diego County

San Diego County is a new hot spot for white shark juveniles, who seem to prefer this area as a ‘nursery site.’

SAN DIEGO — As we embark on ‘Shark Week’ 2022, CBS 8 is diving into the reasons why juvenile white shark sightings have been on the rise in San Diego County in recent years.

“We have been seeing an increase of great white shark sightings in Southern California and that’s quite simply because there’s more great whites,” said Dr. Chris Lowe, a marine biologist and Director of the Shark Lab at California State University Long Beach.  

"White sharks were protected in California in 1994 and their food sources have recovered, so as a result, we’re starting to see more sharks.  The population is recovering and that’s a good sign," said Lowe.

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Lowe said San Diego County is a new hot spot for white shark juveniles, who seem to prefer this area as a ‘nursery site.’

“About ten years ago when we first started to see them pop up, they were primarily around Santa Monica Bay, Santa Barbara, Long Beach, Huntington Beach, and we had none off San Diego,” said Dr. Lowe.  “And starting about 2 years ago, we started seeing juvenile white sharks down in San Diego County, and now that’s one of our biggest hot spots.” 

Juvenile white sharks are typically between 4 and 9-feet long and up to six-years old, and before maturing into adulthood, they seek out shallower waters where it’s safer. 

“People don’t often think of a 5-foot white shark as being afraid of anything, but they are,” said Dr. Lowe.  “So they’re born, they’re given no parental care, completely on their own, and we think the reason why they choose shallow water on beaches is it’s a safe place for them.” 

And shallower waters are also warmer waters with plenty of food sources for them, making San Diego the perfect place to hang out. 

“The number one thing we find in juvenile white shark stomachs are stingrays,” said Dr. Lowe. “We have hundreds of thousands of those along our coast.” 

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How safe is it to be in the water with some of these white sharks around?

“There is a relatively low risk of people being injured by those juvenile white sharks that are using our popular beaches as their nursery,” said Dr. Lowe. 

The team at Shark Lab Cal-State Long Beach have been tagging juvenile white sharks with acoustic transmitters for the past 10 years, and they’ve been compiling observations from their drone program to see how white sharks interact in close proximity to humans. 

“They treat people like ‘flotsam,’ just floating objects on the surface, so most surfers, standup paddleboarders, they’re all surface-oriented, even the swimmers, but the sharks are down below,” said Dr. Lowe.  “Quite often they cannot see the sharks that swim underneath them because the visibility is not good, but we can easily see them from the air.” 

Legislative protections for white sharks are not the only reason for their population resurgence. It’s also the recovery of their food sources. 

“Seals and sea lions were hunted to the verge of extinction by the early 1900’s and have made remarkable recoveries because of protections, so in my opinion, these are all great signs of California’s impressive conservation efforts to bring some of these populations back,” said Dr. Lowe. 

The Shark Lab will be hosting an open house on July 30, 10:00 a.m.–3:00 p.m., where the public can gain a more extensive look at the research carried out by the Shark Lab while participating in various activities.  

To learn more about this event, visit their website. 

Director of the Cal State University Long Beach Shark Lab, Chris Lowe sat down and talked about the research they have been conducting in Southern California. 

Watch that conversation below:

 

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