Sharktober lived up to its name when a flight out of U.S. Coast Guard Air Station San Francisco spotted 20 adult great white sharks scattered close to the Central California shoreline in a 10- to 12-mile area between Ocean Beach and Pacifica. According to Shark Stewards, the term Sharktober comes from the fact October is traditionally a time of high concentrations of white sharks in the Red Triangle — an area bounded by Big Sur out to the Farallon Islands and up and in to Bodega Bay.
The white sharks migrate into the area during the fall to take advantage of large populations of marine mammals, which breed in the winter along the coast of both the mainland and islands. Normally the large predators — the Coast Guard estimated the sharks sighted ranged from 10 to 18 feet — use deeper water for the migration, but the speculation is these large predators were drawn shallower by this year’s unusually warm water.
White sharks have been involved in a rising number of attacks on humans, at times fatal, as predator, prey and humans increasingly interact. The shoreline where the sharks were spotted is popular with surfers and kayakers.
Much like the marine mammals they really want to eat, great white sharks are completely protected in California waters (except for incidental catches in gillnets and purse seines). A moratorium on targeting white sharks has been in place in California for decades. Prime white shark feeding areas are included in the state’s array of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).
If not fear, coastal users should harbor healthy respect for great whites and avoid areas recently associated with white shark sightings and marine mammal kills. Shark Stewards has set up a Twitter feed #SharkWatch to help observers, kayakers, surfers and swimmers share information on white shark movements. Their website also includes tips on how to avoid a white shark attack.
*It should be noted that Shark Stewards, a project of Earth Island Institute, is also at the forefront of demanding the creation of MPAs in the San Francisco Bay system, as was originally included in the Marine Life Protection Act legislation. Kayakers lost a significant portion of accessible and productive fishing waters along the California coastline during the first four rounds of MLPA planning. The San Francisco Bay is home to many sharks species that are routinely targeted by fishermen for both sport and food, including leopard sharks, sevengill and sixgill sharks. The catch is highly monitored and regulated with both size and catch limits in place.