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More sharks are sharing waters with Central Coast beachgoers — but we're "not on the menu”

Photo by Carlos Gauna.
Courtesy of @CSULBsharklab Twitter page, photo by Carlos Gauna.
A great white shark shares the water with kayakers.

A study published by CSU Long Beach’s Shark Lab in June found that beachgoers on California’s Southern and Central Coast are sharing waters with more sharks than ever before.

But don’t worry– it seems that we’re not on the menu.

Over two years, Shark Lab researchers used drones to survey 26 beaches in Southern California every month from January 2019 to March 2021.

Shark Lab Director and CSU Long Beach Marine Biology Professor Chris Lowe said great white sharks were spotted swimming near people on 97% of the days surveyed.

“One of the things that we found, that was most amazing, was the frequency at which this occurred,” Lowe said. “It's happening daily.”

Lowe said juvenile white sharks were found gathering in two key locations along the California Coast: Carpinteria in Santa Barbara County and Del Mar in San Diego County. He said most swimmers and surfers captured by the drone footage were completely unaware that sharks were swimming right near them.

“Right now, as we speak, a white shark is probably swimming right by a swimmer or surfer, and those people don't even know the shark’s there,” Lowe said.

Lowe said more juvenile sharks have been seen swimming near the shore than ever before. This is thanks to conservation efforts that began in 1994 to protect white sharks in California.

Photo by Carlos Gauna.
Courtesy of @CSULBsharklab Twitter page.
Photo by Carlos Gauna.

Lowe said while their numbers have grown, the number of shark bites on humans has not.

“Despite the fact that sharks are around people every single day, people aren't being bitten, and it’s rare when those incidents occur,” Lowe said.

Even though the study focused on Southern California beaches, Lowe said white sharks are highly active in Central Coast waters as well.

“The bigger juveniles will move up further north and will actually venture up to the Pismo/ Morro Bay area,” Lowe said.

While shark attacks are rare, California’s most recent shark-related fatality happened in San Luis Obispo County waters. On Christmas Eve in 2021, a lone boogie boarder was killed in a shark attack in Morro Bay.

“We still really don't understand why white sharks occasionally bite people unprovoked,” Lowe said.

Some possible explanations are that sharks may mistake humans for their prey or feel threatened– but Lowe says shark attacks are extremely uncommon.

To put things into perspective: according to National Geographic, you have a one in 218 chance of dying from a fall but a one in 3.7 million chance of being killed by a shark.

“We have more white sharks, probably, in our waters than we've had in the last hundred years, and yet the bite rate is not going up,” Lowe said. “So what that tells us is that we're clearly not on the menu.”

Though the likelihood of a shark attack is extremely low, Lowe suggests a few safety measures to share waters with sharks; one tip is to avoid swimming alone, as he said there’s safety in numbers.

For more on sharks in California, you can visit

Photo by Carlos Gauna.
Courtesy of @CSULBsharklab Twitter page.
Photo by Carlos Gauna.

Amanda Wernik is a reporter and substitute announcer at KCBX. She graduated from Cal Poly with a BS in Journalism. During her time at Cal Poly, she worked as a news anchor for KCPR Radio and as an intern for the CJ Silas Show on ESPN Radio.
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