New buoy warning system in Newport Beach to alert lifeguards when a shark is close to shore

For beachgoers concerned about predators in the deep blue sea, new buoys and ocean floor censors will be placed at Corona del Mar State Beach and Newport Harbor to alert lifeguards when a great white shark is nearby.

According to Chris Lowe, director of Cal State Long Beach’s Shark Lab, the reason they lurk closer to the coastline is because of shallow, warm waters with plenty of prey to feed upon.

“We think our beach habitats are a nursery for these young white sharks, so one possibility why the babies come is because it’s safe,” Lowe said. “The juveniles feed on stingrays and [the beach has] become a place where there is a lot of easy to capture [stingrays] for them.”

According to USA Today, at least 11 juvenile great white shark sightings had been reporting along the Long Beach peninsula by July. Long Beach lifeguards also posted 24-hour advisory notifications along the beach several times this past summer.

During a news conference on Friday, Newport Beach Mayor Kevin Muldoon and U.S. Costa Mesa Representative Dana Rohrabacher called the sharks an “expanding threat,” and discussed installing a Shark Mitigation System that was created and tested in Australia called clever buoys by Memorial Day. The buoys will use sonar sensors on the ocean floor and track marine animals based on their swimming pattern.

According to Echelle Burns, a graduate student who manages the great white shark tagging data in CSULB’s Shark Lab, they’ve been constantly trying to find new technologies to help better understand the population size and behavior of the great white shark population in Southern California.

“This is what makes the clever buoy very exciting and intriguing. It’s finally a way that we can observe coastal sharks that we haven’t tagged,” said Burns. “While we try to tag as many sharks as we can, it’s impossible to tag every single shark that’s out there.”

Over the last 10 years, Lowe and his students have found that these sharks have certain hotspots along the coast where they tend to go. The problem is the sharks tend to migrate from one hotspot to another and Lowe and his team have been trying to determine why.

Currently, any data Lowe collects is shared with the lifeguards to help them develop criteria for when and how long to keep beaches closed if a predator is a threat. If the data from clever buoys is effective, it could help lifeguards do their jobs more efficiently.

“While the lifeguards can use the data to see whether there are enough sharks present to post a shark warning, we can use the data to see whether there are patterns in how frequently sharks are detected by the buoys,” said Burns.

As promising as it sounds, Lowe said the buoy system may still not be worth the one million invested to significantly change safety for surfers and swimmers. Lowe said that it’s great if you live in a wealthy community that can afford it, but the reality of it is that your chances of being bit by a shark are so low, adding this extra measure may not be worth it.

“It’s a matter of providing more information and people will learn how to interact when they’re in the ocean because we’re guest in their home,” said Lowe. “We have to learn how to share the ocean with them and that’s going to take some learning on our part. Because we have to change our behavior. They’re not going to change theirs.”

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