This summer I swam from Alcatraz Island, entering the water not far from where a white shark had been observed preying on a pinniped 6 days before. Along with a few fellow Dolphin Club swimmers we stroked our way unharmed to Aquatic Park, past a curious sea lion, and no doubt over many species of small and harmless sharks.
The swim initiated a swim awareness campaign we will be taking into 2016, swimming in the USA but also in Asia. Follow us as we swim for sharks and please help support our shark conservation, education and advocacy work.
A recent video of a white shark preying on a pinniped carcass off Alcatraz has hit the social media, and traditional media sphere by storm. While it is news to record an actual predation event on camera, it is not unusual to have white sharks visit the Bay. The Stanford Tagging of Pacific Predators program has been tagging white sharks for over a decade. One study shows a tagged white shark entering and exiting the Bay four times in one year. Dr Salvador Jorgenson of Stanford’s TOPP program conveys that at least twenty of the 200 or so tagged white sharks have been recorded inside the San Francisco Bay.
There have only been two verified events of unprovoked shark attacks on humans inside the San Francisco Bay. One was in 1926 when a boy and his dog were bit near a fish rendering and whale processing plant at the location of what is now the Oakland Airport. The dog and the boy both survived, and the nature of the account of the shark’s behavior and their injuries suggests a sevengill shark, not a white shark.
The last death just outside the San Francisco Bay was an 18-year-old swimmer, named Albert Kogler Jr., who was killed while swimming at Baker Beach in 1959. This is the only death related to a white shark in the immediate Bay Area. The most recent shark attacks near the Gate on a human was at Stinson Beach in 2002, and a white shark bit another surfer at Ocean Beach in 2005. Both surfers survived to surf to this day. Since 1950 there have been 101 confirmed white shark attacks on humans with 13 fatalities. The truth is, shark attacks on humans are exceedingly rare, and with prudent practices we can avoid being bitten by a great white shark.
If attacks are so rare, why do the bloggers and news crew insist on saying shark-infested waters? Year round, every day for one hundred forty years swimmers at the South End Rowing Club and Dolphin Swimming and Rowing Club have been swimming in the bay with sharks without incident. Tens of thousands of swimmers have entered these “shark infested” waters unscathed.
Although we know white sharks visit the Bay, many species of unheralded sharks swim beneath our toes. That is why we prefer to say shark inhabited waters, and argue that we can co-exist with sharks because we need sharks for ocean health and Bay health. As apex predators, sharks regulate the rest of the marine food web. Removing apex predators causes a trophic cascade, negatively effecting the other predators and fish and invertebrates below it, down to the bottom of the ecosystem. Saving sharks saves the health and balance of marine ecosystems.
Last week aerial footage by the US Coast Guard reported over 20 sharks off the San Francisco Coastline. With thousands of sick and starving sea lions and other pinnipeds washing up along the California coastline, sharks are needed to fulfill their role in the ecosystem. By preying on these weak and sick pinnipeds, these sharks are doing their job, and doing nature a favor. Many swimmers have braved the waters of the Gulf of the farallones,including record holder Joseph Locke and Kimberly Chambers swimming from the Devil’s Teeth (Southeast Farallon Island) to the Golden Gate Bridge. Another icon, Simon Dominguez attempted to swim from the Golden Gate to the Farallones, and nearly made it before neing denied by the presence of the:Landlord, a white shark, just 3 miles form his goal. A prudent decision by the team eader allows Simon to swim another day. These swimmers and others from the famous Night Train Swimmers will be supporting our Swim for Sharks from Point Bonita to Tiburon to benefit shark conservation.
Scientists estimate that one third of open ocean sharks are threatened with extinction. Each year it is estimated that 100 million sharks are being killed for their fins alone to supply the demand for shark fin soup. A healthy ocean and even a healthy San Francisco Bay needs top predators like sharks.
Locals call these months Sharktober. This is the time when our population of white sharks returns from a nearly 5000 mile round trip annual migration from an area east of Hawaii. October is the peak month when the sharks return to feed on their favorite prey of elephants seals, and when we see them most along our coast. Shark Stewards celebrates the sharks off of our coast, Bay and ocean in a month long series of Sharktober events.
Sharks get a bad rap. They are not cold blooded killers, but animals fulfilling a powerful role in marine ecosystems. This is a fun way is to disprove the myth of shark infested waters and prove that although there are many species of shark in the San Francisco Bay, they do not harm people. Swimming among wildlife is thrilling and makes our work exciting.
copyright 2015 David McGuire