Call it what you will -- fascination, hysteria, paranoia -- but the hype surrounding Southern California's recent increase in shark activity has yet to abate. The latest bursts began with a non-fatal attack in late April, but turned into global headlines in mid-May, as local, national and international media began broadcasting stunning images of great white sharks swarming beaches off Long Beach and Dana Point.
The impact on the collective psyche of the beach-going community has been dramatic and visceral. A quick scan of Surfline's webcams reveals that many lineups in south Orange County look like ghost towns, with crowds down to levels not seen for decades. The one glaring exception being Lowers. Yet, locals like Nate Yeomans and the Gudauskas brothers are now jokingly referring to the spot as "Shark Park" in social media posts.
But the sightings are also resulting in cautionary action. Over a half dozen middle and high school surf team coaches were told to cancel all "water activities" at Salt Creek and neighboring Strands Beach until schools break for summer in two weeks. One local surf team coach said he realized that the school district was using an abundance of caution, but hoped they wouldn't "buy into the hysteria."
The frenzy hit its high point on May 10 in Capistrano Beach, roughly one mile south of Doheny State Park, where numerous sharks were clearly visible from shore. While a small crowd gathered on the beach to gaze at fins circling the lineup, a sheriff's helicopter was keeping watch for more than half an hour. At one point the sheriff flew right over a stand-up paddler who'd just launched off the beach. His warning: "Clear the water, there are fifteen large great white sharks in the surf."
In response to that flurry of sharks, boat charter operators out of nearby Dana Point harbor have renewed their moth-balled "shark tour" offerings, quick to pivot from their traditional whale watching tours and capitalize on a fascinated, albiet terrified, public. Unfortunately, according to witnesses, local fishermen have also seized the opportunity, trolling near-shore waters with seal dummies in order to draw in the sharks. Hardly a wise decision considering the circumstances.
With similar sightings occurring regularly over the past two weeks, one of California's longest running and most important amateur surfing events -- The West Coast Championships -- was relocated last weekend from its traditional home at Church Point to Oceanside Harbor's South Jetty due to shark fears. According to the WSA's website and a mass text sent out to competitors, the event was moved "due to fear of recent shark activity at Church Beach San Onofre. The text went on to add: "The safety of our surfers is paramount."
Church Beach was the location of a very serious but non-fatal shark attack on a bodyboarder less than three weeks ago on April 29 , 2017. The attack coincided with a week-long spate of great white shark sightings, breaching shark videos, close encounters and beach closures in the Trestles area. The announcement is the latest fall-out from increased shark activity in and around the South Orange County region, one of the densest surfing populations in the world and home to the WSL's Hurley Pro at Trestles held every September at Lower Trestles.