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SoCal's great white sharks apparently return to migrating behavior

File photo: Researcher Chris Lowe releases a juvenile white shark in the spring of 2017. Data from the trackers Lowe has placed on dozens of sharks shows that many have left the area. Small great whites normally head south to Baja California around this time of year.

If reports of great white sharks along Southern California beaches this past year kept you out of the water, this may be good news: The baby and juvenile white sharks that were seen year-round for the past couple years seem to be clearing out. 

Chris Lowe, who heads the Shark Lab at Cal State Long Beach, said he’s seen a marked decline in shark activity along beaches in L.A. and Orange counties in recent weeks. Lowe has been tagging great white sharks in Southern California for about a decade to try and better understand their behavior.

Lowe said after a summer of bouncing around so-called “hot spot” beaches, including Dana Point, Balboa Shores and Santa Monica, most baby and juvenile white sharks have left, possibly headed south to warmer waters in Baja California.

“This time of year when our water temperatures dip below, you know, 62 degrees, is normally when they start to make that move,” Lowe said. 

Lowe’s tracking data shows that many, but not all, of the 38 sharks carrying Lowe’s tags have left the area, even though SoCal ocean temperatures are actually still a few degrees on the warm side for this time of year.

Lowe said he likely won’t know where, exactly, the sharks have gone until a few months from now when tracking data can be collected from other locations along the Southern California and Baja California coasts. 

In recent years, the sharks haven’t followed their normal migratory pattern, probably because the El Niño weather phenomenon kept winter water temperatures here higher than usual — comfortably warm for juvenile great whites. Instead of migrating south for the winter, many of the sharks that Lowe had tagged stuck around Southern California. 

Lowe hopes his tracking devices will eventually reveal what the sharks are up to this year. 

Ultimately, Lowe hopes to learn how factors like climate change and conservation efforts are effecting the migration patterns and population growth of the ocean predators, and how SoCal beachgoers can safely coexist with our resident sharks.