By Sarah Sekula, Published on usatoday.com
Peer over the cliffs at San Onofre State Beach in the springtime for a picturesque view. Kayakers paddle to and fro, sea lions bob up and down and sunbathers soak up the rays. Look closely, though, and you are bound to spot massive shadows in the shallows.
Those 9- to 12-foot-long shapes are great whites trolling by as surfers rip across the waves above. This popular area, a prime locale for beachgoers all year long, becomes a hotspot for the apex predators during pupping season in March and April.
“Like all of southern California where there are plenty of sharks and virtually no recorded attacks on humans, people don’t fear the animals and continue doing what they’re doing in most cases,” says Jeff Kurr, a filmmaker for Discovery Channel’s Shark Week (which begins July 5).
Kurr says it’s important to keep in mind that “you’re more likely to be killed by a neighborhood dog, a cow, a deer, even a toaster than to die in a shark attack,” he says. “And consider that if you’ve swam in the ocean, you’ve probably been in close proximity to a shark and didn’t even know it.”
Kurr says he’s been in the water with tiger sharks, bull sharks and white sharks for the past 25 years, usually with bait in the water, and the sharks have only shown interest in the bait, never in him.
“I think that tells us that when a shark bites a human it’s purely by accident, perhaps a case of mistaken identity that often occurs in murky water,” he explains. “A shark attack, if you can even call it that, perhaps shark bite is a better word, is incredibly rare if you consider how many people use the ocean for recreation.”
On the other hand, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be super aware of our surroundings while frolicking in the water this summer. And knowing where sharks like to spend their time is a good start. Here are some locales that sharks frequent.
Gasparilla Island State Park, Boca Grande, Fla.
“In spring and early summer, large bull sharks and great hammerheads feed on tarpon in Boca Grande Pass, just south of the old lighthouse,” says Bob Heuter, vice president of research at Mote Marine Lab & Aquarium. “Beachgoers may spy the tall dorsal fin of a 12-foot great hammerhead swimming near the surface, or a group of 9-foot bull sharks as they gang up on a tarpon hooked by a sport angler.”
El Porto, Manhattan Beach, Calif.
“El Porto is a nursery ground for newborn and juvenile great white sharks,” Kurr. “From late spring until end of summer, surfers and paddleboarders swim with these pups, hoping for a glimpse of the sea’s apex predators. But, at 5- to 8-feet long, generally, these great whites are only interested in pursuing sting rays and small fish in the shallow water. The sharks have even been spotted in the shore breaks only 20 to 30 feet from shore. Though the sharks are seen nearly every day, the good news is there’s never been an incident at El Porto, a place where sharks and humans readily co-exist.”
Seal Beach, Calif.
“Only yesterday (June 17) lifeguards deployed a drone to capture footage of 10 to 12 juvenile white sharks cruising the coastline very close to shore,” says Kurr. “Once again, these are juveniles in the 5- to 6-foot range and pose little to no threat to humans. At this size, the sharks are timid and will readily swim away from a human form, which is likely perceived as a threat to them. No one panicked.”
Mossel Bay, South Africa
“At certain times of the year the great white sharks move inshore and very close to the beaches and can be easily seen from the beach while you are suntanning,” says Andy Casagrande, Shark Week filmmaker.
Delray Beach and Boca Raton, Fla.
“During the winter months massive amounts of blacktip and spinner sharks can be seen just off the beach aggregating and migrating. Sharks number in the thousands and thousands,” says Casagrande.
Little Ship Cay, Exumas, Bahamas
“Year round you can find blacktip sharks, nurse sharks, lemons sharks and Caribbean reef sharks in ankle-deep water as they swim up to the sandy beaches to get tasty snacks from the locals,” says Casagrande.
Coral Bay and Fish Bay, St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands
“Young-of-the-year lemon sharks can be seen from the beach in the early summer to autumn in the shallow seagrass areas,” says Heuter.
Nauset Beach, Coast Guard Beach and Race Point Beach, Cape Cod, Mass.
“White sharks have occasionally been spotted from the beach in the summer,” says Heuter. “Chances are slim, but sightings have been recorded from the beach.”
Sebastian Inlet State Park, Fla.
“Feeding aggregations of blacktip and spinner sharks can sometimes be seen from the beach here in the warmer months,” says Heuter. “It’s also a favorite area for surfers, which is why a number of people get bitten in this area as the sharks mistake a foot or a hand for a prey fish.”
Surf Beach, Calif.
“Every other October, in even-numbered years, this beach becomes one of the world’s most dangerous,” says Kurr. “In 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2014 there were attacks here, almost on the same day in some cases. In fact, this beach is the site of the last two fatal attacks off the California coast. The latest attacks in 2014 were on two groups of kayakers who were hit by a great white shark believed by experts to be 20 feet long. All survived.”