Should L.A. Be Wary of a Sharky Summer?
File photo by Conal Gallagher/Flickr

Should L.A. Be Wary of a Sharky Summer?

For weeks there have been shark sightings off the coast of Long Beach, inspiring local lifeguards to issue an advisory that warns beachgoers along the city's peninsula to be on the lookout.

The warning follows the closure earlier this year of Bolsa Chica State Beach and Sunset Beach after sightings of great whites off the Orange County coast. Should Angelenos headed to the beach this spring and summer be worried?

So far the answer to that question is no.

Experts say it's not unusual to spot baby great whites feeding near shore this time of year. It's happened in the past along Manhattan Beach, for example. In fact, there was a sighting at El Porto within the last three months, a local lifeguard official said.

In Long Beach, the juvenile great whites are feeding on stingrays and halibut, which they can find in shallower waters, Long Beach lifeguard Capt. Cameron Abel said. The specter of baby sharks and stingrays along the beach could be a sign that the water is warmer than usual because it's drawing stingrays closer to shore, where they "sunbathe," he said.

"We're getting a lot of stingray stings in the area because it's shallow and you can walk out quite a way," Abel said.

The Long Beach sharks measure 5 to 8 feet, he said. But after feeding and growing, they'll get too big for local beaches and head out to deeper waters in search of larger prey. So far they have not been aggressive toward beachgoers. "We estimate 10 to 20 juvenile sharks swim in the waters off Peninsula Beach daily," according to the Long Beach Fire Department, which runs a lifeguard division.

Chris Lowe, director of the Shark Lab at California State University, said the sightings earlier in the year — off Orange County, Long Beach and Ventura County — are "an indication that it could be a shark-filled summer." This isn't a sure thing, he noted, but "we're keeping an eye on it."

People are heading to the peninsula just to view the sharks, Abel said. He's warning them not to touch or scare the creatures, which are protected under state law. "People want to come get a closer look," he said. "Do your best not to disturb them."

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