You’re swimming with sharks. Why great whites love SoCal

Written by Danielle Chiriguayo, produced by Zeke Reed

Sharks are attracted to SoCal beaches’ shallow depth and warm temperatures. Credit: Carlos Gauna/@TheMalibuArtist.

Ever have a sneaking suspicion that you’re not alone when swimming in the ocean? Photographer and FAA-certified drone pilot Carlos Gauna, aka the Malibu Artist, has proof. Nearly every day, he takes videos of great whites swimming close to humans. 

According to a 2023 study of Southern California’s ocean from Cal State Long Beach’s Shark Lab, humans are near sharks 97% of the time we’re in the water. Despite the proximity, relatively few nasty encounters have occurred. 

Gauna spotted his first shark by chance at Point Dume in Malibu. After spending the day filming whales, he resigned himself to watching the sunset. Then he saw a great white shark and had no way to film it. 

He made it his goal to figure out where to find more of them. It didn’t take long before his next encounter.

“What if I told you most beaches you go to in Southern California, it's basically one giant highway for the white sharks, specifically juvenile white sharks,” Guana tells KCRW. “There's nurseries all along Southern California.”  

SoCal beaches’ shallow depth and warm temperatures create this shark hotspot. Plus, there’s plenty of food for the apex predators.

“Will Rogers Beach in Malibu, just north of Santa Santa Monica Pier, that seems to be a hotspot. … Then up in Santa Barbara, near Carpinteria, there's a big aggregation in Del Mar, for example. But basically anywhere in between is what I call shark alley.” 

“What if I told you most beaches you go to in Southern California, it's basically one giant highway for the white sharks, specifically juvenile white sharks,” Carlos Guana says. Credit: Carlos Gauna/@TheMalibuArtist.

However, don’t be fooled by the “juvenile” nature of these sharks. Gauna says their length ranges from six to nine feet. Once they start growing and transition to hunting, they begin hunting bigger prey — including humans. 

Still, Guana says sharks are rarely interested in biting and eating humans. “I've never seen a shark even display any kind of aggression toward a human. It's normally just a casual, ‘Hey, let me see what this object is.’ And I tell you what, they're a lot smarter than you think.” 

So how close do sharks get to the shore? Gauna says he’s seen them in the white wash of the waves almost daily. 

“A lot of people do get freaked out on the beach, especially tourists when I show them, ‘Hey, you're next to a shark.’ And then some of them are just excited and just want to go out there and do it again.” 

If beachgoers encounter sharks, Gauna says the best tool in their arsenal will be situational awareness.

“If you see a shark, try to keep an eye on its nose. Meaning: If you see a shark and it disappears, your first instinct should be to look behind you. … The human … says, ‘I see a shark,’ that shark will 100% of the time go down and reappear right behind you. They're smart,” he explains.

Gauna adds, “They are animals of really, really effective camouflage and surprise. The element of surprise is how they thrive. And if you make one out, their element of surprise is gone and they give up. So as long as you keep that shark in front of you, at all times, your chances of getting bit are almost nil because they just don't like to be exposed.” 



  • Carlos Gauna - drone videographer known as the Malibu Artist