Sunday, January 21 , 2018, 8:45 am | Fair 41º


Local News

Shark-Infested Waters? Despite Increase in Sightings, Experts Say They Can Explain

Greater public awareness, including first-ever warning signs, may have led to more close encounters — and that could be a good thing

More sharks and more people enjoying activities in and near the water might explain why a greater number of sharks have been spotted recently, according to researchers and local water authorities.

In fact, for the first time, authorities posted signs at local beaches warning the public of shark sightings. The signs also could have helped make people more aware of how to report such incidents.

Whatever is responsible for the increase in local shark sightings, experts say Central Coast residents should not be alarmed by the changes.

Shark advisories went up five times between July and September, with signs posted at 17 predetermined locations and lifeguard towers along Santa Barbara beaches.

Three of those advisories, which are all posted for 72 hours after a reported sighting, went up in a two-week span between Aug. 14 and Aug. 27.

Mick Kronman, harbor operations manager with the city’s Waterfront Department, said he’s been working with the Parks and Recreation Department to post signs this year because of the increase in shark sightings and shark attacks on marine mammals.

“It’s very unusual to see this many white sharks in our area,” Kronman said last week. “They’ve been really close.”

Local marine researchers say they’re hopeful that the increase in sightings means that great white shark populations are making a comeback from severe overfishing, which occurred before the Marine Mammal Protection Act was passed in 1972.

A growing number of people surfing, diving and fishing are also affecting the trend, said Jennifer Caselle, research biologist at UC Santa Barbara’s Marine Science Institute.

“More and more people are enjoying the water now,” Caselle said. “More people are surfing. More people are getting into stand-up paddling now. Now anyone can report it.”

As a surfer and diver herself, Caselle said she isn’t worried about coming across a shark.

“We really need sharks in our oceans,” she added. “Restoring sharks brings you one step closer to restoring ecosystems. It does appear that the protections are working, and I think that’s a good thing.”

An increase in great white shark sightings along the Santa Barbara coastline is not unusual when considering the predators’ migration patterns, said Santa Barbara City College marine biology instructor Michelle Paddack.

The sharks seem to be feeding now before their winter migration toward Hawaii for breeding, Paddack said.

“It is absolutely in line with what we know about their feeding patterns,” she said.

Researchers know less about great white sharks than other types because they’re harder to find and to keep in captivity.

The negative stigma associated with the toothy predators is another factor, Paddack said.

“There has been a negative perception of sharks in our society in general,” she said. “The movie Jaws definitely started a negative perception. They are a potential predator of us, so anything that can hurt us we tend to want to avoid.”

In addition to an increase in shark sightings, Kronman noted a greater number of shark attacks on marine mammals — seals in particular.

Kronman said 10 seal carcasses with shark bites and injuries washed ashore over the summer.

That brings the total number of shark incidents to 20 since April.

“We’re just trying to inform the public,” Kronman said. “We’re not trying to alarm anybody.

“We are hopeful that this is either a seasonal phenomenon or a unique ecological phenomenon this year, and that we see fewer sharks in the future.”

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click here to get started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >