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Facts swimmers should know before jumping into the surf

Published July 1, 2019

The local shores will be packed this holiday week with beachgoers looking to enjoy a day in the sun and surf.

Before entering the water this summer, swimmers, surfers and divers should be aware there is a risk, although small, of encountering a shark. The chances of being attacked and killed by a shark are 1 in 3.75 million.

Still, being aware of sharks, their habitats and behavior is a good idea, according to Dr. Chris Lowe, director of the Shark Lab. Informing the public about sharks and shark safety is the mission of the Shark Shacks, a tool being used by students and researchers at Cal State Long Beach to increase awareness.

According to Lowe, there are four main "hotspots" for baby white sharks along the Southern California coast – Belmont Shore, Santa Barbara, Santa Monica and Dana Point.

Check out Lowe’s video on what to do if you encounter a shark.

Encountering a shark isn’t the only danger in the ocean. Other facts involving marine animals and beach safety all swimmers should know are:

  • Three sharks tagged in Southern California in 2012, 2015, and 2017 made their way to Mexico in 2017.
  • The Cal State Long Beach Shark Lab uses Remote Underwater Video (RUVs) in hopes to identify individual sharks at local beaches. The sharks are interested in the camera and often swim by taking "selfies."
  • Most of the white sharks tagged by Cal State Long Beach’s Shark Lab are 4-7 ft long.
  • For non-El Nino years, juvenile white sharks occur in southern California waters by late February and leave by the end of October to go south to Mexico in search of warmer waters during the winter months
  • The most recent El Nino (2014-2016) caused some juvenile white sharks to remain in southern California during the winter months, instead of their usual pattern of moving south to Mexico for warmer waters
  • Acoustic receivers monitor movements of acoustically tagged white sharks along southern California.
  • One shark originally tagged in 2012 in Santa Monica Bay was recently detected at Guadalupe Island (off Baja California, Mexico) in the spring of 2017
  • Different sizes of juvenile sharks are at different hotspots along southern California.  The babies are at Belmont Shore and Santa Monica Bay, the toddlers are at Santa Barbara and Dana Point
  • As white sharks reach maturity, they begin annual (males) or biannual (female) migrations between offshore habitats and two known adult aggregation sites, Central California and Guadalupe Island.
  • Adult female leopard sharks are known to aggregate in warm shallow water during summer days to possibly speed up their pregnancies
  • Recovery of the white shark population off California is likely attributed to their protection in 1994, better fisheries management, and recovery of marine mammals
  • Baby and juvenile white sharks use local beaches as nurseries because they have warmer water, safer habitats, and plenty of prey (round stingrays)
  • When the weather is warm and surf is low, stingrays move in closer to shore, so make sure you do the stingray shuffle when heading out into the surf
  • Stay away from sea lions and seals that haul out on crowded beaches, these stranded animals are often very sick due to domoic acid poisoning and may bite if you get too close
  • Pay attention to rip-current warnings and always swim parallel to the beach if you are getting swept offshore