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You're going to see sharks — don't freak out

Every summer the water off Southern California’s coast becomes a bit more crowded — and not just with people. Sharks return from their winter migration to warmer waters south of the border.

In recent years, shark populations have also been recovering from much lower numbers in past years, prompting more frequent sightings.

Near Dana Point on Wednesday, for instance, a school of sharks was seen swimming near several people in the water. There’s video of it, posted online by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

Earlier this week, young sharks were also spotted very close to the Long Beach peninsula. And a young woman was badly bitten at the end of April, off San Onofre.

But there’s no reason to freak out, says Dr. Chris Lowe with the Shark Lab at Cal State Long Beach. Lowe joined KPCC on All Things Considered to answer some burning questions about beach safety, why there are so many sightings this time of year, whether this year is any different, and the nitty-gritty of how scientists study shark behavior.

Why are there so many sharks so close to shore right now?

White sharks, as in great white sharks, as in all those rows of teeth?

A great white shark seen off the coast of Guadalupe Island in Mexico.
Brook Ward/Flickr Creative Commons
A great white shark seen off the coast of Guadalupe Island in Mexico.

What other types of sharks are common in this area?

Leopard shark
Brian Gratwicke/Flickr Creative Commons
Leopard shark

You were out in the waters last night off the Long Beach Harbor. Give us a snapshot of what you saw out there.

Anything about that shark’s behavior surprise you, or its movement in the water?

Sevengill shark
Syn/Flickr Creative Commons
Sevengill shark

How do you catch a shark? I imagine they don’t go quietly.

What do you do if you’re swimming in the ocean and you spot a shark? What should you NOT do?

A picture taken on April 5, 2013 shows a smooth-hound shark (Up) with an adult female (background) in the aquarium of Talmont-Saint-Hilaire, western France. Three females gave birth in captivity to twenty five smooth-hound sharks measuring betwen 20 and 30 cm (8 to 12 inches). The aquarium keeps twelve females caught by fishermen of Les Sables d'Olonne one year ago. AFP PHOTO/ JEAN-SEBASTIEN EVRARD        (Photo credit should read JEAN-SEBASTIEN EVRARD/AFP/Getty Images)
AFP/AFP/Getty Images
A picture taken on April 5, 2013 shows a smooth-hound shark (Up) with an adult female (background) in the aquarium of Talmont-Saint-Hilaire, western France. Three females gave birth in captivity to twenty five smooth-hound sharks measuring betwen 20 and 30 cm (8 to 12 inches). The aquarium keeps twelve females caught by fishermen of Les Sables d'Olonne one year ago. AFP PHOTO/ JEAN-SEBASTIEN EVRARD (Photo credit should read JEAN-SEBASTIEN EVRARD/AFP/Getty Images)

Is there any particular movement that a swimmer might make that would make them more attractive to a shark or signal, “Hey, I’m food?”

So this woman that was bitten off San Onofre, she was just a victim of bad luck?

There’s been some speculation that an El Niño could make a return soon. What could that do for the local shark population?

This interview was edited slightly for clarity and length.