Sheriff to Paddleboarders: You Are Surrounded by 15 Great White Sharks
On May 11, in Southern California, paddleboarders got a frightening message from the sheriffs department via helicopter:
"This is the Orange County Sheriffs Department, be advised, the State Park is asking us to make an announcement to let you know you are paddleboarding next to approximately fifteen Great White sharks. They're advising that you exit the water in a calm manner. The sharks are as close as the surf line."
There were also reports of Great Whites 50 miles north on Long Beach where beachgoers were told to enter at their own risk. There have been plenty of shark spottings in the past two weeks. A woman, Leeanne Ericson, 35, was attacked while wading in the San Onofre Beach on April 30 when she was bit on the back of her thigh. She is in fair condition after multiple surgeries, reported KGTV in San Diego.
It is unknown why sharks are lining up along the coast, but scientists say it may be because of warmer ocean temps, due to climate change. Sharks are migrating creatures, they move south in the winter when waters go below 60 degrees. But, with abnormally strong El Niño conditions keeping the waters warm in 2014 and 2016, and rising temps overall, the oceans have remained warm throughout most of the year.
"We haven't quite figured this out yet," said Lowe. The shark populations seem to be congregating in what he calls "hotspots" in Southern California. The number of sharks in the area has also increased in recent years and so has the number of prey, like otters, sea lions and seals, which could also be contributing to the increase in sharks.
"The number of seals, sea lions and otters that have been observed with white shark bites have been steadily increasing since 2002," Lowe said.
As for why they are attacking humans, which usually only happens when the shark is threatened, Lowe said, "[a shark] may be sending signals, too, that the person can't see. When those warnings go unperceived, the shark could attack."
Until we have more answers, it might be wise if beachgoers avoided swimming for now. "We have unfettered access to the ocean," Lowe said. "Humans have forgotten how to share habitats with wild animals, and they have to be re-educated."