Juvenile great white shark sightings on the rise

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SAN DIEGO — Experts say sightings of juvenile great white sharks, like the one seen near Black’s Beach Monday, are becoming more common off the Southern California coast.

Memorial Day afternoon, officials warned beachgoers about a great white shark after an injured sea lion was found in the surf break, about 20 to 30 yards from the shore, according to a California State Parks spokesman. San Diego lifeguards spotted a 7-foot great white shark from a boat. The shark was determined to be a juvenile due to its size and the fact that the sea lion, though injured, got away alive.

Recent studies indicate the number of great white sharks along the coast from San Diego to San Luis Obispo are increasing. Most of the sharks are newborns or juveniles.

Dr. Chris Lowe has been studying juvenile great whites off the San Diego coast for 18 years through his work with Shark Labs out of California State University Long Beach. He said if a seal or seal ion gets away from a shark, it is because the shark is not skilled enough in the attack just yet.

Newborns are about five feet long, while juveniles are seven to nine feet in length.

“Right now, there’s an aggregation of juvenile white sharks off San Diego,” Lowe said. “And those form aggregations form along many of our public beaches. Some of those sharks have been there for about a year and a half and this is the first time we’ve seen aggregations like this off San Diego. We’ve seen them in Santa Monica, Huntington Beach and off Santa Barbara, but this is the first time in 16 years that we’ve seen them off San Diego.”

He has been tagging the juveniles to try to better figure out their behavior and how they migrate in the ocean.

“One of the tools we use to figure out when sharks are by these beaches is if we can get out, we can tag the sharks with an acoustic transmitter,” Lowe said. “We have acoustic receivers all along the beaches that are listening for the tagged sharks.” 

So far, they have about 120 tagged sharks off San Diego that they are following. They have partnered with lifeguards in Del Mar, who are monitoring the sharks’ behaviors. 

“The goal is to use that information to know when sharks will show up at beaches and can we predict when they’ll show up.” Lowe said.

Lowe says we are in the beginning of shark season, meaning more sightings are likely.

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