BY JESSICA PERALTA
If you’re a Southern California beach-goer, it’s hard to ignore the increasing number of shark sightings in the area – especially considering the recent shark attack at San Onofre State Beach.
And while we’re all trying to get as far away from sharks as possible, Cal State Long Beach Marine Biology Professor Christopher G. Lowe is busy tracking them.
“Our goal with our research is to try and figure out … why certain beaches?” said Lowe, who is the director of Cal State Long Beach’s Shark Lab.
He and his student researches have had their work cut out for them this spring tagging and tracking an increasing number of sharks. Ultimately, their research helps give the public at-large important information about shark behavior.
Some cities are becoming more proactive on the shark front as well. Newport Beach has purchased three receivers that detect marine animals, including white sharks tagged by Lowe as well as previously tagged marine animals, according to Chief Lifeguard Rob Williams. When a white shark swims by the receiver, the receiver is pinged and the data is then available for download. It helps educate the lifeguards on shark activity in the area, said Williams. The city posts detected marine life activity on its website.
“There’s different technology we’re using to enhance our knowledge of what is out there at any given time,” said Williams.
Lowe said his team has been employing new, advanced technology that is greatly helping their research.
Acoustic telemetry – the technology being employed by Newport Beach – involves dart transmitters attached on the skin of the shark like an earring or if the shark is caught, a transmitter can be surgically implanted. The dart transmitter only lasts a year, but the implant lasts 10. Lowe and his team have tagged 10 sharks with the implant – allowing the researchers to track a shark from baby to adulthood. Each transmitter has a unique identification code, so when the shark passes by the receiver, it collects the time, date and ID number. There are receivers set up along the coast, including the Santa Monica Bay, Santa Barbara, Newport Beach, Laguna Beach and Dana Point.
“The idea there [is that] as sharks move from place to place, we can detect them,” Lowe said. “We’re using drones to count them and estimate size.”
Another important form of shark tech is “the smart tag,” which is clamped on the dorsal fin and pops off in 24 hours. Lowe likens it to a Fitbit for sharks, measuring every motion.
“So we can recreate kind of the world around the shark using that technology,” Lowe said. “You end up with this record of all the things [the shark] did during the day.”
The only limitation now is the price tag. The smart tags alone run $10,000 apiece.
“They’re very pricey and sometimes you don’t get them back,” he said.
Lowe is in the process of attempting to find private funding since their current funding will probably run out by mid-summer due to the increasing number of sharks.
“It’s just not enough to keep up with demand in Southern California,” he said.