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.