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First responders get a course on shark research, lifesaving techniques

Published February 18, 2019

Lifeguards and other first responders who protect California beaches and harbors gathered at Long Beach State to ensure their agencies’ work to prevent and respond to shark attacks.

Representing agencies with jurisdictions ranging from the Central Coast to the Mexican border, the lifeguards and other safety professionals participated in the 2019 Southern California Shark Workshop, which was a day of professional learning designed to help first responders keep up to date with new developments in shark research and lifesaving techniques.

Shark Lab Director Chris Lowe and other experts provided attendees with new information on how lifeguards and the Shark Lab can share data, understanding white shark behavior and providing first aid to shark bite victims and the Shark Lab’s monitoring technology. The lab’s monitoring equipment includes acoustic buoys and aerial drones, as well as a newly-obtained unmanned submersible that will help Lowe and other researchers observe the underwater environment.

According to Lowe, it’s a necessary task, since white shark populations have recently increased, likely the result of environmental protections for the animals themselves, as well as marine mammals that white sharks feed on.

“It’s a different ocean now than it was 10 years ago,” he said.

According to the Shark Lab’s researchers, the oceans near Southern California are vital to white shark populations. The waters provide nursery habitat to the animals.

“This increases the likelihood of interactions,” Lowe said. “It doesn’t have to be a negative interaction.”

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife notes that shark attacks of the state’s coastline are “extremely rare” events, but officials there have also observed growing numbers of incidents in which a shark physically touches a human, or an object such as a surfboard or a kayak.

Fifty such incidents – two of which have resulted in fatalities and 18 of which have caused injury – are known to have occurred over the course of the current decade, according to data last updated in January. Over the entirety of the 2000s, Fish and Wildlife officials tallied 41 shark incidents, causing three fatalities and 17 injuries.

For lifeguards and other first responders who attended the Shark Workshop, the day’s lessons included advice on how to identify different species of sharks and other marine animals, how to recognize when a shark is behaving in a defensive or aggressive manner, and how to maximize a patient’s chances of survival if they ever do need to provide first aid to a shark bite victim.

Shark bite survivor Keane Hayes, rescued after a white shark attack that took place last September in the waters off Encinitas, recounted his story to the lifeguards.

Following the event, Hayes said he hopes lessons delivered during the Shark Workshop can ensure that “every time there is a shark attack, it goes right and the person can survive.”

The 2019 Southern California Shark Workshop followed state government’s 2018-19 appropriation of $3.75 million to the Long Beach campus’ Shark Lab to further research into white shark activity and beach safety.

“The Southern California Shark Workshop is the result of the hard work and strong partnerships of the CSU Long Beach Shark Lab and lifeguards up and down California’s southern coast,” said Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell (D – Long Beach) said. “I thank Dr. Lowe for organizing this workshop to ensure that our first responders have the information they need to protect beachgoers.”

The Shark Lab’s public outreach plans include a shark safety comic book for school children, presenting safety information at beachside “Shark Shacks” and the lab’s annual on-campus event “Sharks @ the Beach” event, which is scheduled for July 20. Programming for this year’s Sharks @ the Beach will include lessons designed to help people who fish from California’s piers avoid catching or attracting sharks.