Shark Awareness & Education
Two new state-of-the-art buoys recently installed off Coronado are helping with ongoing efforts by the California State University Long Beach Shark Lab and City Lifeguards to better monitor the local white shark populations.
The Shark Lab has tagged more than 175 white sharks with active transmitters along the southern California coast from Morro Bay to San Diego over the last seven years with 71 underwater acoustic receivers.
"These new buoys will improve shark detection response time and provide a tool for understanding shark behavior patterns," said Dr. Chris Lowe, director of the Shark Lab and a professor in marine biology. "This is important in understanding population growth."
Previously, tagged shark detections were shared with lifeguards monthly but did not provide adequate surveillance information. The new buoys equipped with solar-powered receivers will provide real-time tagged shark detection and environmental data. No sharks have been detected since the buoys were installed in mid-December. However, Del Mar, which has a similar buoy, has picked up six different tagged animals.
Shark Lab scientists and lifeguards have access to the text and email alerts from the software when sharks are detected as well as a web portal providing information about the shark and where it has been detected over time. The system also provides data on water and air temperature, and data representing seascape, along with buoy diagnostics indicating buoy location, battery charge, and solar panel function. This system uses a geo-fence to know if a buoy has broken free of its mooring and will alert lifeguards if it is drifting away.
The Shark Lab maintains the buoys and moorings with assistance from Coronado Lifeguards. There are currently four other live buoys within the Shark Lab network including locations off Carpinteria, Long Beach, Huntington Beach and Del March Data from all buoys are accessible to lifeguards through the network. The new buoys are the southernmost in the California network.
Since last year, City Lifeguards have assisted Shark Lab employees in conducting tagging and surveillance on the local shark population. A receiver was installed late last year off the beach to record data on tagged sharks passing through the area following an increase in sightings earlier that summer. Most were juvenile white sharks that pose little threat to humans. If sharks are detected, the City follows a protocol that depends on the size and activity of the shark, such as if the shark displays "engaging" behavior toward swimmers or surfers.
It is unclear if the lack of detections since the installation is due to fewer sharks, time of year or the fact that only tagged sharks are detected. The data is logged and used by the Shark Lab to further its study of sharks.
Coronado Lifeguards are certified by the nonprofit U.S. Lifeguarding Association to conform to national standards through education, training programs and promotion of lifeguard readiness. Their mission is to professionally and with the highest integrity provide the community with safe beaches.
Last summer, Coronado Lifeguards received increased reports of shark sightings in the ocean just offshore. The City and its Lifeguards have developed the information posted on this page to help educate the community about this natural marine wildlife behavior and what measures the City is following.
To help alleviate public concern, the City spoke with a Long Beach-based shark expert about the sightings and what the instances could mean.
According to Dr. Chris Lowe of California State University, Long Beach's Shark Lab, the increased occurrence of shark sightings in the ocean waters off Coronado may be due to one of three reasons. First, since sharks are completely on their own from birth, selecting shallow water habitats may be the safest place for young white sharks. Second, young sharks need to learn to feed on their own and stingrays along the beach are an abundant and easy target. Third, the water is warmer along the beach. This can be important for food as well as faster growth. Sharks prefer water in the 60 to 78-degree range.
Lowe said the smallest pose very little threat but the larger juveniles, about 9 feet long, are less fearful of people in the water. "Despite this lack of fear, we still haven't seen signs of aggression or a big jump in bites on humans," Lowe said. He added that his lab is conducting a large study trying to quantify encounter rates and potential risk factors.
Lowe advises people to surf and swim at guarded beaches with friends in groups and to warn lifeguards if you see a shark.
California lifeguard agencies have developed a shark policy with help from Lowe, an expert in the field, and the Shark Lab.
State Shark Policy Main Guidelines
- Unconfirmed shark sightings are reports typically from a single individual without any supporting evidence or sightings by another party.
- Actions Taken: Lifeguards continue to monitor the area and determine if other sources can confirm or deny the reported sighting.
- Confirmed shark sightings are reports from an individual that is confirmed by multiple individuals, a lifeguard or other City representative.
- Actions Taken: Lifeguards post the beach area up to one mile in each direction of the sighting with advisory signs indicating that a shark has been sighted. Lifeguards continue to monitor the area and the posted signs remain in place until the area is re-evaluated the following morning. If additional shark sightings are confirmed the next day, the advisory signs remain in place until the area is re-evaluated the following morning. This process will continue until the shark is no longer seen in the area.
- Non-fatal shark incidents are when a shark is reported as having aggressive behavior (bumping, circling, rushing) near swimmers or when it causes an injury to a person.
- Actions Taken: Lifeguards clear the ocean waters and post signs one mile in each direction for up to 24 hours. Lifeguards continue to monitor the area and re-evaluate the situation to determine when to open the areas.
- Fatal shark incidents are when a shark has caused the death of a person.
- Actions Taken: Lifeguards clear the ocean waters and post signs one mile in each direction for up to 48 hours. Lifeguards continue to monitor the area and re-evaluate the situation to determine when to open the areas.
- California State University, Long Beach Shark Lab website
- View the video of the Shark Lab produced shot with a drone over many months to show many instances of juvenile sharks sharing the water with surfers and swimmers
- View the Shark Lab PSA on what to do if you encounter a shark
- View the Shark Lab Meet the Locals Flier (PDF) to learn about all the species that can be encountered off Coronado’s beach
- View the Shark Lab Shark Nurseries Flier (PDF) to learn about shark nurseries