Sharks are all over SoCal; your risk of getting bitten is very small

Hosted by

A horn shark swims in Redondo Beach, California. Photo by Shutterstock.

Christopher Lowe grew up on Martha’s Vineyard, where the famed shark movie “Jaws” was filmed. But it wasn’t the film that inspired him to study sharks and become a professor of marine biology at CSULB, it was a chance encounter with a shark while fishing. “I love to fish and dive, and I caught a shark one day and that was my hook. That got me into it,” he says. 

His career may have started on the East Coast, but he’s been in Long Beach for decades at their Shark Lab, one of the oldest shark research labs in the country. And recently, his lab started using new technology to get a better understanding of how sharks and people are coexisting in the oceans of Southern California.

“As scientists, we've been clued into the fact that there are sharks out there, and they're probably around people all the time. We just didn't have any way of measuring that,” he says of their recent study. “For the first time using drone technology, we actually had the ability to measure how many times people and sharks were together in the water at the same time.” As it turns out, quite a lot.

“We were actually surprised at how often juvenile white sharks swim right by surfers and swimmers. It's literally many, many times a day,” shares Lowe. 

But sharing that space isn’t necessarily a bad thing. 

“One of the things that we noticed was that the sharks have particular places where they like to hang out. And in some of those places, there are lots of people, and others, not so many. But what we were originally thinking was that having all those people nearby would scare the sharks away. Turns out, it doesn’t. Sharks basically have just learned to ignore people.”

He notes that the probability of a shark biting you is even less than winning the Powerball. 

But if you do see a shark, he offers this advice: “Keep your eyes on it. Let the shark know you see it. … Move your surfboard to track that shark. … And for many of these animals, their goal is to sneak up on things and try to identify what it is and determine whether it's food. So if the shark knows you know it’s there, the gig is up.”