Summer is almost here and millions of Southern Californians and tourists will be visiting the shore. To help navigate the waters, Cal State Long Beach Shark Lab science educators will be at local beaches to remind beachgoers that they are not the only living things in the waves.
“One of our main goals is to remind people that when you are going into the ocean, you are going into a wild habitat,” Shark Lab science educator Dan DiMarzo said.
Shark Lab students and researchers will be delivering that message at pop-up Shark Shacks, places for beachgoers to get facts, figures and more information regarding white sharks and other marine life they might encounter during their day at the beach. Shark Lab representatives will soon hit beaches and boardwalks along a long stretch of the state’s coastline.
“We’ll be visiting beaches, all the way from San Diego to Santa Barbara, all summer long,” Shark Lab Director Chris Lowe said.
The Shark Shacks are a part of the Shark Lab’s growing public service role. State government appropriated $3.75 million to the lab last summer to finance shark and beach safety research over a five-year period. The grant already has supported the 2019 California Shark Safety Workshops, which the Shark Lab hosted in February and May for lifeguards and other first responders protecting the Southern and Central/Northern California beaches.
The Shark Shacks will be places for beachgoers to receive information that could prevent them from needing a lifeguard’s help in the first place. The shacks will be a place for the curious to learn why shark sightings are on the rise, to know the difference between a shark and a dolphin if they spot a dorsal fin, how to avoid stingrays, how sharks fit in to the ocean ecosystem, and what to do during an encounter with a shark or other animals.
The Shark Shacks also will be a place for educational fun and games. Part of the experience will be helping children to understand how large white sharks can grow by laying on vinyl mats printed with actual-size images of the animals. An adult of the species can grow to 16 feet in length, but generally stays offshore. Juvenile white sharks, many of which live in the “nursery” waters in Southern California are four to five feet in length. Visitors will also be able examine shark jaws and specimens of shark skin.
Despite the rarity of shark-versus-human confrontations, beachgoers are safer if they are mentally prepared for those encounters. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species classifies white sharks as a vulnerable species, which is one step above endangered, but science educator Leah Sazer-Krebbers said populations of the animals are rising.
That creates a public service opportunity for Shark Lab researchers to help beachgoers understand how to stay safe if they come into proximity with white sharks.
“It is still pretty rare to have interactions, but that is a potential,” Sazer-Krebbers said.
Shark Shack educators have completed test runs in Laguna Beach and Santa Barbara, and the Shack’s official debut is set for Friday, June 14 near Belmont Veterans Memorial Pier in Long Beach.
The Shark Lab’s summertime public education efforts will also continue with Shark Day at the Beach, scheduled for July 20 on campus.