Friday, July 20 , 2018, 2:23 am | Overcast 66º


Captain’s Log: Are There More Great White Sharks in Santa Barbara Channel?

One of the most common questions I get asked by passengers, while running my WaveWalker charter boat, is, “Do you see white sharks out here?” I always look at the person asking and wonder what answer they are hoping to hear. It doesn’t matter, because I’m going to give them the straight answer, but I always wonder. Sometimes to lighten the moment I’ll return the question with the question, “Why? Are your kids swimming at the beach today?” After a mutual laugh, I answer the question.

“Yes,” is the short answer, which usually brings the second question, “Are there more of them now?” Again, the short answer is, “Yes.” But it isn’t a simple answer.

What I can tell you, from a charter skipper’s experience and from talking to hundreds of boaters at my fishing tackle shop, Hook, Line & Sinker, is that boaters in general are seeing more white sharks and fewer blue sharks than in the past 10 years or so.

Boaters talk and share our stories, partly for the joy of sharing and partly because it is important information. But here’s the thing: We have way more boats on the water now than we did 20 years ago. So collectively, we are seeing more of everything that is there to be seen. Some of the increase could be that we are seeing more of what is available.

Where did the blue sharks go? I don’t have a solid answer, but I can say that we have been in a cold water regime for about the period that I’ve noticed fewer blue sharks at the surface of the sea.

Why do we have more white sharks? If I were a research scientist, I’d probably suggest putting large piles of money in my bank account so I could go put on a study using “best available science.” I’m not a fan of that phrase, and I’m not convinced that would result in solid answers. It would be great for my bank account, though. I am, however, a charter captain with much more time at sea than most folks, and I can tell you that we have an unruly and unmanaged mass of pinipeds, and their populations are growing unchecked — except, of course, for the appetites of great whites and orcas. We don’t get very many orcas here, but we do get the sharks.

I see extremely interesting things, such as thousands of sea lions all over the rocks at the west end of Santa Cruz Island. Then I come back the very next day and see absolutely no sea lions. Why? You can guess with some certainty. This ain’t rocket science. This is the food chain.

Where are we encountering more white sharks? The answer to this one can be kinda scary. We find more of them around their favorite food source — sea lions and seals. We have plenty of them at the Channel Islands, and so great whites are tempted to hunt those waters where we like to boat. We also have a vast and growing, unmanaged population of pinipeds along our local beaches where we like to swim. So my usual suggestion is, “Don’t dress up like a sea lion and go swimming.”

— 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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