A shark lab in California tagged more sharks off the southern coast this year than ever before, raising questions researchers are unable to answer.
Despite the coronavirus pandemic limiting team members and lab time, California State University’s Long Beach Shark Lab director Chris Lowe told CNN his team still tagged 38 sharks in 2020, triple the number they tagged the year before.
“This has been the biggest summer that we’ve had in the 10 years we’ve been doing this,” Lowe said. “There’s still a lot of sharks around that aren’t even tagged yet so we’re probably going to tag even more before the year’s over.”
“It seems like 2020 will be a year-round shark season and we don’t know why. There’s a lot of questions we don’t have answers to right now,” he added.
Along with a hike in numbers, the sharks are also being tagged in areas where they never visited in the past, such as regions off the coast of San Diego. The sharks are also lingering around the beaches for longer than usual, another odd behavior researchers are struggling to understand.
“What’s interesting is that the sharks are sticking around this time. Usually they find a beach and stay there for a couple of weeks before dispersing and going to another hot spot,” Lowe said.
“What’s unusual is that this year we have aggregations still going since March, so while new sharks have come into the aggregation and some left, by large we still have animals we tagged in March that are sticking around and we haven’t seen that before.”
While researchers don’t know why the sharks are hanging around, Lowe said they suspect it could be related to food sources or a result of climate changes.
Water temperatures in Southern California generally start to drop in October, signaling sharks to start migrating south. This year, however, surface water temperatures remain warm, anywhere between 65 degrees Fahrenheit to the low 70 degrees mark, and sharks aren’t leaving as they usually do, according to Lowe.
While some of the sharks are hanging around the shorelines of crowded beaches, the predators have not been interacting much with people in the water despite being in close proximity to them.
“It looks like a very unusual year,” Lowe said. “Something’s changing and we just don’t know why. With all these sharks off public beaches, it raises a lot of public concern. The first thing is, do we have scientific data to show what these sharks are doing and does it pose a risk to the public? As soon as we get that information we’ll get that out to the public.”
Lowe gives this warning: Be careful surfing or swimming in the water, especially near seals.
After all, you wouldn’t want to get between a shark and a seal.