We don’t know why sharks bite people
I can’t really think of any other animal that gets as much press as sharks. There are very few animals that have a whole week of television programming dedicated to them. In fact, I would argue it’s built into our DNA to like things that are a little scary. It’s been a challenge in terms of getting good science and good behavior information to the public to show them that the way they’re portrayed in the movies isn’t how sharks actually act. It’s human nature to want to know why sharks bite people and the simple reality of it is we don’t know. We clearly know they’re not interested in eating people because places like Santa Monica Bay or Waikiki Beach would be a Costco for sharks. Southern California is known as a nursery for white sharks in the Northeast Pacific. One of the things that we’ve noted in the last 10 years is that the number of baby white sharks has been steadily rising. The reason why we think the white shark population is increasing is really based on the fact that they’ve been protected. These young sharks are using some of the most heavily populated beaches on the entire West Coast. We have to learn more about the behavior, so we can increase that knowledge, and get that knowledge to the public, so that we can continue to share the waves with the sharks, and be safe when we do so. So by using drones, underwater cameras, smart tags, all these technologies combined together are enabling us to put together the world around the shark. This is an acoustic transmitter. So these are the types that we can dart into a shark’s back. So as a shark’s swimming around, if it gets within 500 yards of one of our underwater receivers, the receiver will log the time and date that the shark came by. So all summer long, we’ve had a lot of activity. All the sharks that are being sighted are what we call white sharks. We’ve got a decent size one down where the helicopters are right now. Our most successful method so far has been this dart tagging method where we either tag sharks from a boat, or we tag them from a jet ski. One of the things that we’re learning is that the sharks are getting more savvy. They’re getting more difficult to approach from a boat. In addition, the visibility in the water here is not very good. So the sharks only have to go about two feet beneath the surface, and we no longer spot them. Got it! The shark that I did tag, appeared to be clear. We didn’t see any other tags in it, and it was a good tag. So hopefully we’ll get a lot of information from that shark over the next couple months, and even the next few years. This is one of the devices that’s out listening for sharks all the time. This is the hydrophone. This is the actual listening part, and then the computer part is in here. So we work closely with many of the lifeguards in Southern California to develop protocols. If sharks are over eight feet, there’s a good chance that it is a white shark. Larger sharks are more likely to approach people than the smaller ones. Therefore, if a shark is confirmed shark sighting of over eight feet, lifeguards may elect to pull people out of the water. If the water visibility is really poor, and there are notices of sharks being in the areas, that’s when accidents may happen. It may be that they’re mistaking them for their normal prey because visibility is poor. The other possibility is sharks are biting people for defensive reasons. Every animal has a personal space. If you get in a shark’s personal space, and you don’t even know the sharks are there, and the sharks are warning, and warning, warning. Finally it says, “OK, I warned you,” comes over, takes a bite. The person leaves the area. Problem solved for the shark. So when you consider how many people use the ocean on a daily basis in Southern California, and the likelihood of being bitten by a shark is so infinitesimally small, that it almost seems crazy to worry about. I always relate your chances of being bit by a shark is the same likelihood of winning the Powerball. It’s that small.