Newport Beach lifeguards have set up three beacons offshore to detect tagged sharks that pass the area. Newport Beach officials say the beacons are part of a project to improve public awareness of shark activity in the area, which includes a website dedicated to spreading information about known shark locations, the first of its kind in Orange County.
Thanks to increased shark activity in the area, Newport Beach lifeguards find themselves doing a job usually reserved for marine biologists: tracking and analyzing data to better understand shark behavior and migratory patterns. The launch of the project comes after a swimmer was bitten by what was thought to be a 10-foot great white shark.
The data is not yet in real-time and the three beacons off of beaches near Corona del Mar, Balboa Pier and Newport Pier only track sharks that are part of a statewide shark-tagging program. Along the coastline from Morro Bay to San Onofre, about 100 receivers record ID numbers, times and dates of shark travel. The Newport Beach website has logged data from four shark encounters in July, including a 15-foot great white off Newport Beach and a 10-foot shark about a half mile from the shore of Corona del Mar.
The Shark Lab program at Cal State Long Beach has tagged about a dozen sharks in recent years off Orange County since reports of sightings began to increase. Researchers have tagged another 14 sharks off Santa Monica, more than a dozen off Ventura, and a handful in Northern California.
A research team from the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Stanford University have tagged several sharks in Northern California near the Farallon Islands. The most recent shark visitor to Newport Beach is believed to have travelled from the faraway Farallons, which makes statewide shark tracking a priority for lifeguards, swimmers and surfers everywhere. Southern California is a popular destination among female great white sharks that migrate here from May to September to give birth. The 15-footer that recently came to Newport Beach will likely leave after having babies.
The challenge for beach officials is to get the data out as quickly as possible. The 15-footer was detected on July 19, but the data was not downloaded until a week later. The 15-foot great white pinged the beach three times in 10 minutes after dark, but lifeguards and shark watchers were not alerted until she had already passed.
The website also includes reports of shark sightings by fishermen, merchant mariners, police and Coast Guards which are uploaded in real-time. The city of Newport Beach may opt to upgrade the beacons to transmitters in order to get real-time reports of shark movements off the coast, but the technology is still being developed and may be months away from being ready to use. Australia, Reunion Island and other countries with high levels of shark activity already have such systems in place.
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(all data current as of 9/23/2017)
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