Baby sharks have invaded the beaches of Los Angeles, and they're sticking around.
No need to panic: They're not too aggressive. They're just learning how to hunt. Surfers remind them of seals, which would be bad if the creatures were adults, but which is not so bad when they're younger because they're afraid of larger mammals. They mostly munch on stingrays.
The real danger here?
That we could be harassing these months-old shark babies, which are protected under California law.
Traci Larinto, senior environmental specialist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, reminded us, after video of baby sharks turned up over the weekend, that it's illegal to chase these fish down because they're candidates for state endangered species status.
People convicted of badgering the sharks could be on the line for thousands of dollars in fines and even jail time. A trio of baby sharks, one about 10 feet long, was spotted off Manhattan Beach's El Porto over the weekend.
“We're just concerned that there are people who appear to be going out and looking for white sharks,” Larinto said. “We prefer they just leave them alone. I would imagine wardens are aware of it and are stepping up patrols out there.”
The sharks we're seeing along the beaches of the Santa Monica Bay “were just born this year,” she said.
Capt. Kyle Daniels of the L.A. County Lifeguard Division told us previously that while there might have been two shark sightings a year in the past, this year has seen an average of two reporting sightings per day.
Marine biologist Chris Lowe, head of Cal State Long Beach's Sharklab, is perhaps the area's foremost shark expert.
He has these theories about the increased sightings:
-The water has been warmer this year. It's about 63 degrees right now, which is springlike for the cold Pacific. The baby sharks, he thinks, follow the warmth south to Mexico each year. They're sticking around past summer longer than normal. The local sightings, he says, have happened in “warm patches” of water.
Larinto of state Fish and Wildlife concurs, saying Santa Monica Bay is a “pupping area” for the babies. “A lot more activity is occurring toward the end of the season,” she said.
Baja has winter water temps like our summer water temps. We think they follow a temperature gradient.
-Limits on fishing great whites enacted in 1994 — for example, they must be thrown back if caught within three miles of shore — have increased their population. Lowe:
Sharks are coming back. They were negatively impacted by coastal gillnetting, which peaked in the mid-'80s. For the last 10 or 15 years the numbers of these young white sharks occurring along our coast seems to be increasing.
-A vastly cleaner Santa Monica Bay has brought them into our waters. The professor:
The ocean might be getting better. If you look at how far Santa Monica Bay has come since the '70s it's remarkable.
-The water has been warm and clear this fall, and people can actually see the sharks. (Which brings up the scary notion that they've been there all along, in murky waters).
“We've had good conditions and it's relatively calm, so it's easier to see,” Lowe says.
He believes the sharks will move south with the first juicy west swell of winter, which could cause upwelling and colder water at our beaches.
So should we be afraid? Not really. Lowe argues that “humans aren't on the list” of things baby sharks like to eat. The babies are generally afraid of sea lions, sharks' usual prey, he said. Surfers in black wetsuits are said to be targets of bigger sharks because they resemble sea lions.
“These young sharks are probably scared,” Lowe says. “Anything as large as themselves they're going to avoid.”