Experts: Recent Shark Sightings Shouldn't Cause Alarm

While experts say there has been an increase in reported shark sightings in the area, it isn't necessarily because there is an increase in sharks.

Last week's circling and then biting the motor of a small boat in the waters off Venice Beach is no cause for alarm, marine biologists say.

Although the sighting, which was caught on video and posted on YouTube, is part of an increase in reported great white shark sightings in the Santa Monica Bay, at least one expert says humans, not sharks, are the ones to blame for an increase in reported activity.

Ralph Collier, a marine biologist who studies shark behavior and serves as the president of the Shark Research Committee in Los Angeles, credits the increase in shark sightings to the fact that there are now more kayakers, surfers, divers and recreational water enthusiasts using the ocean than ever before.

"The population of people utilizing the ocean 10 years ago is nothing compared to what it is today," Collier told Patch. "You have more potential observers, which means you increase the probability that if a shark is in the area, it is probably going to be observed by one or more individuals."

Collier said that especially during the recent heat wave in Los Angeles, more people flocked to the ocean seeking relief.

"I believe we are not looking at really so much of an increase in the number of sharks, but I believe it is more in tune to the increase in the human population that is now utilizing the ocean for recreation, especially this time of year," said Collier. "We are going to the ocean to get away, to relax, to cool off."

Brent Scheiwe, program director for in Redondo Beach, said that shark sightings are really not uncommon in the Santa Monica Bay this time of year.

"A lot of great whites are giving birth in the Southern California area, so a lot of small ones do show up (and) down in this area around this time of year,” said Scheiwe, a marine biologist. "They are moving around feeding on bait fish, baby sea lions… whatever food source they can find."

Collier also said that sharks are almost always present in the area, regardless of the season.

"We have big white sharks moving up and down our coast a mile and sometimes less from shore all year long," Collier said. 

As for reports of the great white shark that circled and then bit a small boat in Venice Beach, Scheiwe said the shark was just acting naturally.

"That is a behavior that you will see when they are trying to work out what something is," Scheiwe said. "They can be inquisitive and sort of mouth something to try and get a feel for it."

According to Collier, sharks use receptors in their snouts that can detect the minute electrical currents that all living things emit. When the shark bit the motor of the boat, the motor was most likely emitting a small electrical current.

"All of a sudden (the shark) goes back by the engine and the electrical receptors in his snout are telling him that there is something over here that is alive," said Collier. "Once they realize this object is nothing of importance, they move on and continue on their way ... That is what most of these white shark interactions with people actually come down to is investigation."

For those still worried about shark sightings, Collier said that very few area shark reports actually involve the shark approaching a human.

"We don’t have that many reports where the shark makes any movement at all towards coming over to check out an object which may be a swimmer, diver or surfer," said Collier. "Most of these sharks that are being observed generally are just cruising through the area."

Collier said that although people should not worry about getting in the water this summer because of shark sightings, there are certain signs that it is time to get back on the beach. 

"If you see fish jumping up out of the water—fish don’t do that to entertain us," Collier said. "Usually, that means something is chasing them."

"Otherwise, just go out and have a good time... Don't worry about it," he said.


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