Thursday, April 19 , 2018, 4:09 pm | A Few Clouds and Breezy 68º


Captain’s Log: Are Shark Numbers Increasing Locally?

Several shark species call waters off Santa Barbara home

Mako shark pup was photographed aboard WaveWalker then released.
Mako shark pup was photographed aboard WaveWalker then released. (Capt. David Bacon)

Along the waterfront, including beaches where people swim and points of land where folks surf, it is a common discussion:

Are shark numbers increasing locally? The answer is, it depends upon which shark. Let’s look at a few species that live in or visit our local waters.

Great white: Let’s start here because this is the one folks worry most about and for good reason. It may eat us or at least take a bite so big that it’s game over for us.

There is a mystique about the white shark and nicknames come naturally. Many of us who work on the water call it “the landlord.” Evidence and personal observations suggest impressive growth in the population.

At the Channel Islands, their prime feed (pinnipeds) are out of control, overpopulated and causing imbalances in the food chain.

California sea lions should be managed to keep their populations in check, in my opinion. Having more white sharks out there is one step in the right direction.

Mako sharks: As a charter captain with lots of time on the water, my opinion is that the population of makos is steady. It has always been cyclical within a given locale such as the Santa Barbara Channel because of changing distribution of their feed.

A big mako might be a toothy critter to worry about but we don’t have a big population of them.

Blue sharks: These pretty sharks are not as fond of our Channel as they once were.

Fifteen years ago, I had to keep a sharp eye out for finning blues and I was frequently adjusting course to steer clear of them. I suspect water conditions and cyclical changes in their preferred feed has caused them to look elsewhere.

Thresher sharks: The longtails like our waters and each year from late spring to early autumn we enjoy good populations of migrating T-sharks.

Swimmers don’t have to worry about them because they're not a big-tooth shark and they eat small stuff like anchovies and mackerel. I worry more about the T-shark tail than its mouth. A T-shark will clock you with that tail if you make it feel nervous.

We have an important fishery for these delicious sharks. I target them on my charterboat, WaveWalker, and there is usually a contingent of shark fishers out at the end of Goleta Pier where they catch a surprising number for the family dinner table.

Leopard sharks: Now we are talking about a smaller shark species and there are many (like smoothound, pinback, swell shark, sevengill and others), but the leopard shark is hauntingly pretty and very good to eat.

They feed in shallow water along the surf zone and out a bit farther. They are not ones to bite people unless they mistake your toe for a sand crab (doubtful). Leopards are a popular species to fish for and an important food source for families of fisherfolk.

— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit to learn more about the organization and how you can help. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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