The west coast of North America has a relatively robust and rebuilding population of great white sharks (white sharks). With a large coastal population of humans and high recreational and commercial use of the nearshore marine environment, the west coast has a history of white shark-human interactions. Fortunately, despite the large human population and the presence of these large marine predators, the incidence of bites is relatively low.
Over the past two decades, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife has statistically estimated 1.8 human- great white shark attacks (referred here-on as encounters) per year off the west coast of North America per year. Fatality from a white shark attack averages approximately one every five years over the past two decades. Of all species in California, bites or encounters from species other than white shark (such as blue and mako sharks), are very rare and usually involve fishing. Shark Stewards has developed these recommendations to minimize your risk from a serious encounter.
- Avoid areas with high activity of seals in the water or where they are known to haul out.
- Don’t enter the water in areas of known shark activity. Known hot spots in Southern California include Point Conception, Seal Beach and Sunset beaches. Northern CA hotspots include Humboldt (Bunkers), Salmon Creek, Dillon Beach, Ano Nuevo and Morro Bay in Central California.
- Pay attention to Nature’s signs. Circling birds, splashing water, a dead whale, feeding seals and dolphins may also indicate a shark is near. Do not enter the water.
- Use the buddy system. Most shark attack survivors lived because they had immediate aid.
- Don’t look like shark food. A dark silhouette may resemble shark prey. Long boarders have lowest risk with swimmers and divers the highest. Patterned wetsuits and surfboards are available and touted by some but not well tested by science or time for this species.
- Low light may add to a mistaken predation. White sharks have an incredible sensory toolkit but are also visual predators. These sharks may mistake swimmers or surfers as a seal or sea lion during hours of low light. However, most attacks by this species occurred during daylight hours.
- River mouths or areas of low water visibility can increase risk. White sharks also frequent areas with deep channels and drop offs or canyons like La Jolla and Monterey Canyons.
- Don’t bleed in the water. If you have a cut get out. (The evidence of sharks attracted to menstrual blood or urine attracting sharks is inconclusive but believed not to attract white sharks.)
- If you see a shark, alert others, stay calm and paddle away avoiding jerky, splashing motions and exit the water. Warn others.
- Surfers should keep their eye on the shark and point their surfboard towards it and cluster together.
- Observe the signs. Beaches are posted if a large shark is sighted. Some areas like Stinson Beach have permanent signage. Pacifica and Capitola have become sites where juvenile white sharks aggregate.
- Warn others. Tell lifeguards you saw a shark.
- Tweet and Instagram to others using the #SharkWatch tag. Sharks patrol areas and are not locals so in time the shark will leave an area.
Final Resort? Shark survivors have described striking the nose, eyes or gills as a successful (and last ditch) approach towards inducing the shark to release them. Return attacks with white sharks are extremely rare and the odds of survival are high with immediate stabilization and care.
Applying Technology to Prevention
Drone footage and alerts on social media often outstrip the news and can alert ocean goers where high shark activity may be occurring. Besides better observation tools using drones and evacuating the water when a shark is near ocean-goers, several technologies have been developed whose efficacy remain uncertain against white sharks. Some of these technologies include Shark Bandz using magnets and Shark Shields using an electrical field may act as a deterrent to shark investigations. Smart buoy systems that monitor sharks in an area and alert life-safety officials have been tested off Newport Beach and documented incursions of white sharks, but the system was determined to be cost prohibitive by the city. Low-tech solutions include stickers with eyes, or a disruptive striped pattern applied to the bottom of a surfboard board. Patterned wetsuits have also been developed to persuade these ambush predators that surfers aren’t their favorite prey (seals and sealions).
Report a Sighting: Shark Watch
See a shark? Add to the observation database by and adding on social media tagging SharkStewards and #SharkWatch. We will record the observation and share.
Teach your kids about sharks with our new Sharks for Kids Book.
Shark Steward’s mission is to restore ocean health by saving sharks from overfishing and the shark fin trade, and protecting critical marine habitat through the establishment of marine protected areas and shark sanctuaries. With your help, we can do it!