One image has sent local residents across Southern California into a panic after a local mother photographed her two children playing in the surf at Manhattan Beach, and noticed her two boys weren’t the only ones enjoying the waves that day. With some believing the dark, shadowy creature to be a dolphin, others are saying that it was a great white shark lurking just a few feet from the two young boys.
Many are concerned about the number of shark sightings in the area recently, wondering why they are becoming more and more frequent. Are surfers and swimmers in danger?
The Surf Channel reached out to the Shark Research Committee President, Ralph S. Collier, to find out the truth behind the chilling photo that is circulating the internet and national news outlets like wildfire. Read the interesting points that the expert made about the Southern California shark population.
The Surf Channel: What is causing the increase in shark sightings in Southern California?
Ralph S. Collier: The reason that we have more sightings is not necessarily because we have more sharks. We do think the white shark population is increasing, but we do not have any factual statistics.
What has taken place is that we have many more people today utilizing the ocean than we had ten, fifteen, twenty years ago. Due to the increase in beach goers, we have more potential observers. In addition, we now have the technology which will allow you to take a little tiny box shaped camera into the ocean, the GoPro, and film all sorts of things.
We also have nurseries. Lots of animals have nursery areas, and sharks use Southern California as a nursery. The females come in here [Southern California] during the spring to give birth, and then the juveniles stay in this area until they reach about 2 years of age and then they move off. They start traveling and move away from these areas. Now, simply because we have more people, we’re getting more reports.
What is the current shark population like in Manhattan Beach?
RC: We know that there are three distinct individuals [sharks] utilizing the El Porto, Manhattan Beach area and have been since July. It’s not a big deal. They haven’t bitten a soul; they haven’t bumped anybody. In fact, they avoid surfers and swimmers in the water.
Second, we have reports of sharks in Manhattan since the 1950’s. This is the area where white sharks give birth, so they have always been here. We know that by going back and looking at commercial fisherman logs from the 40’s and 50’s and noting how many juvenile white sharks they were catching in the Southern California area. These animals have probably been here for tens of thousands of years, utilizing this location. It’s not because we have a lot more sharks – you might have ten people reporting the same shark in different areas at one beach.
Is it possible that the animal in the photograph is not a shark?
RC: Based on the tail, some people think the photograph posted by the Manhattan mother is of a dolphin, and they are entitled to their opinion. My interpretation of that photograph, it’s a shark that looks about sevem feet in length based on the children that are next to it. It is a juvenile white shark, which is very close to lengths that have been described in the past of shark sightings in Manhattan Beach. It is not a very clear photograph since the shark is in the wave [distorting the image], and of course the wave is cresting and breaking close to shore so there is a lot of debris, but you can see the dorsal fin.
If you look at a white shark’s dorsal fin and compare to that of a dolphin, you’ll notice that the trailing edge on the dorsal fin of the white shark strikes about a 90 degree angle and goes straight up from the body. A dolphin’s dorsal fin does not do that. Also, the shape of the animal looks more like a shark than a dolphin. What is interesting is that no one in the area, not the lady that took the photograph to the best of my understanding, nor her children saw any dolphin coming to the surface and blowing.
There have been many videos posted on YouTube and Facebook of surfers that have taken their GoPro cameras out there and filmed these sharks, and a number of photographs that have been put up on the internet. I’ve been getting reports of these animals on the Shark Research Committee website since July.
Are the shark sightings something that surfers should fear?
RC: White sharks are not mindless creatures. They are intelligent, and generally don’t want any confrontation with anything that is bigger than they are. That’s the survival instinct that kicks in. If one [a shark] comes up to a surfer on a surfboard and the surfer makes any erratic movement, the sharks just dart away.
However, you are embracing Mother Nature. You have to remember that if we were to take a hike up to the mountains, we could run into a mountain lion or a bear. If you go to the beach, there are all sorts of other hazards that I would be more concerned about, like stepping on a broken beer bottle, or the stingrays that are coming in close to shore now.
Want more insight on sharks? Check out 4 Ways to Help Prevent a Shark Attack.
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