After a chilling sighting Wednesday, a Southern California sheriff’s deputy warned people from a helicopter to get out of the water because “you are paddleboarding next to approximately 15 great white sharks.”
The lurking shadows of the big fish were spotted close to the surf line from Capistrano Beach in Dana Point to San Onofre State Beach, south of Los Angeles along the Orange County coast. Paddleboarders and swimmers were told to “exit the water in a calm manner.” The deputy added: “Please do not enter the water.”
A swimmer reported a close encounter with one of the sharks, which appeared particularly aggressive at the Church break at San Onofre. “Within six feet of the surfer, its tail flipped and it made a circling motion around him,” a lifeguard told The Orange County Register.
Shark warnings were also issued in Long Beach, where several juvenile sharks were spotted, the Los Angeles Times reported.
A mother of three was attacked while wading at San Onofre Beach less than two weeks ago. Quick-thinking beachgoers likely saved her life by using a surf leash as a tourniquet to stop the bleeding from a massive thigh wound. The woman, Leeanne Ericson, 35, is reported to be in fair condition at a La Jolla hospital after multiple surgeries, according to KGTV in San Diego.
No one was injured in the latest spotting of great whites, but sheriff’s deputies and lifeguards are on alert. A few great whites were also seen Thursday.
Increasing numbers of voracious juvenile great white sharks are hanging out much longer off the California coast, and scientists believe one the reasons is warmer water linked to climate change.
The sharks migrate south when the waters off California dip below 60 degrees in the winter. But water temperatures have stayed high because of global warming and El Niño conditions from 2014 to 2016, which is also believed to be a consequence of climate change. Most of the sharks never left California this winter and are congregating in shark “hot spots” off Huntington Beach, San Onofre, Santa Monica Bay and Ventura, shark expert Chris Lowe told The San Francisco Chronicle.
Lowe, a biology professor and director of the Shark Lab at California State University Long Beach, emphasized that the risk to swimmers is small given the number of attacks and the large number people in the water, but it can be tragic when it does occur. He also emphasized that people need to take precautions and remember that they’re sharing the ocean habitats with wild animals.
The link between more sharks in certain areas — and shark attacks — became a concern several years ago. A 2014 study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted that all marine animals would change patterns of behavior and regions to seek out their normal water temperature in zones shifting due to climate change. Also, as temperatures climb more people are drawn to the ocean.
The population of great whites off Southern California is also higher in part because they have been protected by federal law for years and the region is a nursery for sharks, according to researchers.