Southern California Sharks


I attended a meeting last night where Dr. Chris Lowe from CSULB spoke to a very crowded meeting at the Manhattan Beach Joslyn Center. He is an expert in sharks and shark behavior and gave us a wealth of good information regarding recent shark sightings as well as some insights into the shark attack that happened on July 5 when our group was swimming just from the Hermosa Beach Pier to the Manhattan Beach Pier.

The report that I wrote up for our group:

I’m glad Steve and Glenda got over there too (referring to the City Council meeting held earlier in the evening, where sharks were also on the agenda). Sounds like that was where all the “Action” was (there were 6 news vans there). The shark meeting was very interesting. Dr. Lowe from CSULB is very knowledgeable about sharks, and esp. the sharks in our area. He presented lots of fine data showing how the shark populations have increased over the past 70 years (during the 1940’s he said was the low point for both “Top” predators as well as Marine Mammal populations along the SoCal coast).

The most interesting studies, of course, are the recent ones, where they actually track the sharks, and try to figure out their habits. Not much is known about the “Tweeners” (between juvenile and adult, they mature at about 8-9 years) apparently, the adults tend to spend time off the SoCal coast when the water is warmer, and then spend between 8mos to a year off Hawaii, or in a place they call the “Shark Cafe”. See the Wikipedia article below.

Nobody knows where they calve, or where they breed. The adults hang out off the Channel islands apparently, including the Farallon Islands off SF, Anacapa, and Catalina. Sometimes they are spotted along the rockier parts of our shore, but rarely in the shallower sandy bottom bays. Most of what we see in the Santa Monica Bay is typical of the areas where there are lots of juveniles. The pups range up to almost 6′ (first year). The juveniles, 2nd – 3rd and possibly 4th year (he didn’t give a clear defn. on age, just size) hang out some in these bays, but the larger ones are not seen as often as the smaller ones. They range up to almost 12 feet.

From the studies of dead sharks that have been netted and such, they have determined they are eating sting rays (round rays and bat rays). That would explain why they come in our shallow bay and hang on the bottom all the time, or at least most of the time. It’s not their only food source, but we all know rays are plentiful in our bay, and they move relatively slowly so are easy prey.

There have been lots of pup and juvenile GWS’s off Malibu and Santa Monica (Will Rogers St. Beach is a very highly populated area) for years, but these past couple years he said, just since like 2010, they’ve been coming south towards MB and specifically El Porto. Reasons are unclear, though speculation ranged from warmer waters to more plentiful food sources southwards now. Rays certainly have been thick around HB and MB these past couple years (personal observation, but one which I offered as a possible reason).

While not harmless he said, attacks by smaller GWS’s are extremely rare he said. They are not apt to attack something the same size or nearly the same size as themselves. Also, the characteristic of their teeth changes as they mature into adults which makes them adapted to different food sources when they get larger. Specifically, the teeth get more triangular, and are heavier in character and are generally better for tearing and ripping hide of larger marine mammals than for catching smaller fish and rays and such. The juvenile teeth are longer and skinnier, and generally not as heavy as the adult teeth.

While he didn’t offer anything specifically related to the attack off the pier, he did relate how GWS’s have been caught off piers for decades. They have, apparently, always been out there in numbers in these shallow bays, it’s just that they are mostly smaller, juvenile sharks that haven’t grown sufficiently to hunt in deeper waters where marine mammals are their favorite food source.

There were lots of questions. As I said, Steve got a chance to share his story, and everyone was very enthusiastic and supportive for he and Glenda. Nader, Sue and Mike, Dave and Sandy and I were all there. We did get a chance to talk with Eric, the Asst. Dir. of the Roundhouse Aquarium. He saw the whole thing, and had an excellent view of the fisherman fighting with the shark. He said he used to cut lines when he saw it was a shark, but Fish and Game told him that he cannot do that anymore.

He also said the shark was clearly visible at least 3 times as it came out of the water – before we ever came in view. Interestingly, this is the same guy who caught a GWS last year, so I’ve likely spoken with him at some point too. The guy I spoke with had a big mouth, and liked to brag about catching that shark. He reeled that one in all the way, and only released it at the pier last time. Between Steve and I, we corrected the notion that this had been some sort of “Accidental” bite, that the shark had just “run into” Steve or something. Steve and I both told Eric, and I told Dr. Lowe, that the shark had been swimming across Steve’s path, when it saw him, made a U-turn and attacked him. Granted it was a provoked attack by an agitated shark, but it was clearly an attack.

That correlates well with the LoudLabs video where at about the 1:15 mark somebody says “it jumped right on that guy”. Steve said its head never left the water, but likely its body did as it flung itself through that hi-speed U-turn maneuver. We believe, based on the size of the jaws they had on display down there, it was a 2 year old shark that attacked Steve. The jaws were 7-8″ wide, and opened up about 12-14″. Eric’s voice is not heard on the video, but he remembers clearly saying “This isn’t going to end well.”

There was another shark expert there who Steve talked with and got his contact information. I didn’t meet him, but it will be great to have more experts on our side to present our case with Fish and Game and so on. Captain Yamamoto was also there with the hook and wire leader with the float on it. What amazed me was the SS cable must be like 3,000lb test. The main line he was using also was very high strength (Dyneema I believe he said). I’m sure they have some of that line too, and may be able to match the line with what he has on his reel. Not proof positive, but maybe pretty good circumstantial evidence.

Again, I don’t personally care if they prosecute the fisherman or put him in jail. All we really want is for Steve to be compensated, somehow, for his hospital bills and such. Given the level of negligence, and what I would say is reckless endangerment (in addition to possible assault charges as per below, and / or Federal charges relating to the fact that GWS’s are protected species), fines or jail may be in order as well as someone is probably liable for damages.

Anyhow, it was a great meeting. We pretty much packed out the meeting room, about 150-175 people I think.


4 thoughts on “Southern California Sharks

  1. Great story.very informational.untill it got to the part about me and our gear.let me clarify a few things for you.yes weve hooked gws off that pier before.we cant help what takes our bait out there.for that reason we use all mono (plastic) leader in the 120 lb range when we fish there.6ft of mono leader and 40 lb mono main line.yes we fish for sharks and rays.theres way more sharks out there than gws.maybe youre not familiar with that concept.heres a few thresher shark leopard shark soup fin shark salmon shark shovel nose shark thorn back sharks and many more.all that frequent our local piers.all are legal to catch.using the same methods we use.n e ways the reason we use all mono leader is because all those sharks mentioned are not able to bite thru the line.but toothy sharks gws makos etc bite right thru in no more than a minute.which is why the first 20 minutes we thought we had a big ray.that 30 ft of wynch cable bottle and marlin lure is an apparent setup at trying to frame us.every one knows manhattan is a shollow bch why would we put a float on that length of cable? Obviously its gonna hit the bottom and then some.and at the end appears to be a trolling skirt for deep sea fishing not for fishing off a pier.since u seem to be an expert on our gear u should also know it could take weeks if not months for a hook to rust and loosin itself from the shark.not the next day.i wish u would do your homework before stating what u think are facts.just wondering if eric martin also told u that the shark surfaced in the wave break 5 ft from a surfer very near shore and he said dont cut it yet.we yelled and cleared the water.eric mentioned he wanted to knowif it was a tagged shark and to hold it for a bit to see if the reciever was pickin him up.or that he said hed love to swim out bext to it for the expierance and everyone would be safe.did eric tell u where he next seen me? Cuz i was on shore as they carried mr robles out i was there as they treated him deeply concerned for his well being.why dont u ask him bout for mr robles medical bills if i had anything to give i a heartbeat.i thought everyone in america had obama care tho? I got it.everyone was legally bound to buy insurance.i feel really bad for mr robles.i hope this incident doesnt stop him from returning to what he loves.long distance swimming.oh by the way that very same day at oceano dunes st bch a surfer was laying on his board when attacked by a juvinile gw 8 to 9 ft.he was thrown from his board which was bit right above his head.he was able to make it to shore safely thank say these gws are gentle docile creatures is absurd.i dont care how many studys u do.those are wild unpredictable animals.dont forget that.u can see that story on http://www.sharkresearchcommittee/pacific just for your info.dont qoate me tho on the web address but if u search it u will find it.once again this was a tragic accident with no intent on our side to hurt anybody.thank you for your time in reading this

  2. I do not agree that the fisherman should be held liable! This was an accident! They did not intend to hurt anyone. The shark may have been agitated due to being caught by the fisherman and then cut lose after a battle. But the fisherman whom I know personally have told me they did not know they had a GW on the line and thought it was ray. They laughed on the tape which sounds horrible but once they saw that the man was being attacked they all started yelling for the surfers and swimmers to get out of the water! This whole thing was just a terrible accident and unfortunate for all parties involved. The fisherman have been tormented on social media and news, stalked and verbally abused. This is not right! When you are out surfing or swimming in the ocean you should know that this COULD happen! There are sharks in the ocean! I have many friends who are surfers and they all agree! Its a risk you take. I’ve also heard people saying that fishing should not be permitted on the pier but why? The beaches are so big that I think that the surfers and swimmers should be far enough away from piers, ( where people enjoy fishing) that this type of indecent is less likely to happen.

    • Hi Ashley – thanks for the comment. Unfortunately, as Eric (curator of Roundhouse Aquarium) told us, they saw the shark several (at least 3) times before we swimmers were ever in the area. There’s some lively debate going on with my original post:

      The fisherman himself has apparently responded to my original report (which was the day after the attack, and about a week before the “Shark talk”. Anyhow, I invite you to go there and read his comments (Jason’s) and some of our replies.

      I wrote an email to Dr. Lowe from the CSULB Shark Lab and thanked him for the lecture, as well I gave him a couple more pieces of data. He responded appreciatively and said he thought there should be no “Big Game” fishing off the piers. Those days may be indeed over. It’s been a long time since anybody caught any 100+ lb halibut off the MB Pier. It did happen way back when, but since the 1940’s when the bay was polluted and so on, there have not been any real large sand dwellers caught out there.

      The rays are fairly common. We saw some large bat rays the other day. Trouble is, even off the Redondo Pier, those are caught, and the fishermen cut the wings off and throw the bodies back into the ocean. Not very appealing for tourists, and/or swimmers. I’m not clear whether that happens off the MB Pier or not, there’s quite a crew of “Regular” fishermen down there that my wife and I have spoken with, it’s obviously been some years since I’ve fished down there.

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