Heal the Bay Blog

Category: California Sharks

Frankie Orrala, our Angler Outreach Program Manager, and staff scientist Dana Murray report on Heal the Bay’s efforts to educate anglers at local piers about sustainable fishing techniques and protecting sharks.

Jan. 27, 2015 — Fresh, salty air whips our faces as we approach a middle-aged man angling on Venice Pier. His eyes are on the water as he reels in his catch. The excitement heats up, as the man uses all his strength and skill to haul in what is turning out to be a big fish.

Encouraging remarks in both Spanish and English come from surrounding anglers on the pier: “Puedes hacerlo!” “It’s so strong!” “You’ve got it!” Helpful hands from other anglers assist the man in catching his 18-inch long kelp bass after a five-minute tussle. If this had been a halibut, it could take 10 minutes to land a good-sized legal catch, and up to 20 minutes to land a prized thresher shark. But most of the time when pier anglers do catch a shark, they throw the animal back in the ocean, followed by cheers from the gathering crowd.

“Oh, that’s a nice fish!” we say as we congratulate the angler on his catch. “What are you going to do with it?” He doesn’t skip a beat, saying with a smile ear-to-ear, “Gracias! I will feed my family with this fish tonight, and share some with my friends.” The subsistence angling community is commonly generous with good catches, parceling out pieces of a large fish to buddies on the pier, or handing over several bonita or mackerel to others who haven’t been so lucky that day.

Angling on Venice Pier

After the white shark bite incident in Manhattan Beach last summer, Heal the Bay decided to build upon our existing Pier Angler Outreach Program, by creating a pilot program to educate pier anglers of Santa Monica Bay about local shark populations and sustainable fishing techniques. Program partners and funders of the pilot project stepped up, including the City of Manhattan Beach, City of Santa Monica, County of Los Angeles, City of Hermosa Beach, and the City of Redondo Beach.

For several months this past fall, our Shark Ambassadors approached anglers, much like in the scene above, to educate fishermen and collect survey information. Through our outreach, we shared newly developed educational materials focused on responsible fishing techniques, how to avoid catching large sharks and what to do if a shark is caught. Through survey questions, we also collected information on demographics, targeted species, caught species and other recreational activities at all Santa Monica Bay piers.

Besides fishing, our study also looked at many other recreational activities that occur near the piers. According to our research, Manhattan, Hermosa and Venice piers all have a high potential for interaction among anglers, surfers and swimmers. While studying piers from September to December 2014, we found that Venice Pier attracts the most anglers to fish in our Bay, followed by Santa Monica and Redondo Beach Piers. Some 86% of the people we talked to identified themselves as subsistence anglers and 14% as sport anglers. Municipal piers are popular for subsistence anglers who fish to feed themselves and their families. This is because piers are easily accessible and are one of the only places in California where people do not need a fishing license, which makes it more affordable.

We also found that the only piers with sport anglers targeting sharks in our study were on Malibu and Venice Pier. Venice Pier anglers are represented by both subsistence and sport anglers targeting sharks; whereas Malibu Pier’s anglers targeting sharks are entirely sport anglers.

It may be surprising that our outreach team didn’t encounter any sport anglers targeting sharks on the Manhattan Beach Pier, where the issue originated. However, this could be because we did not survey piers at night due to safety, and our data presents the voluntary survey responses as given by the anglers. There may be truly fewer anglers out there targeting white sharks, given the high profile white shark incident. Or perhaps not all anglers disclosed their catches. Regardless, it stands that the incident in Manhattan Beach over the Fourth of July weekend in 2014 is likely a singular incident. And one that we hope we don’t see again in our Bay.

If you want to dive in deeper with the details of this program, please read the results of our Shark Ambassador Program pilot program in this report.

Shark Ambassador ProgramOur Shark Ambassadors talk with an angler at the S.M. Pier.


Have a houseful of holiday guests? In need of an outing that won’t add too much stress to the already over-stretched wallet? Heal the Bay’s Santa Monica Pier Aquarium knows you’ll be looking for a fun destination to entertain all ages. Our marine science center will be open special holiday hours beginning Friday, Dec. 26th through Dec. 31st. Visit any of those days from 12:30 to 5:00 p.m.

Tuesdays are feeding days, and visitors are invited to help feed the sea stars at 2:30 p.m. A presentation and feeding at the open top shark and ray exhibit can be a refreshing experience, as the sharks often spray water right out of their tanks while anticipating their meal.

Any day of the week, guests can play hide and seek with an octopus, get a hug from a sea urchin, test their water conservation knowledge at the Watch Your Water exhibit, or put on a puppet show in the Aquarium’s puppet theater. 

The Aquarium will be closed New Year’s Day, and return to regular public hours on Friday, January 2nd, which begin at 2 p.m.

Festive Seahorse in a Santa Hat

A huge thank you to Adventure Voyaging for including Heal the Bay in last month’s Catalina Cruisers Weekend – two days full of fun at Two Harbors. Additional thanks go out to Peter Ellis and friends who served up the famous “Buffalo Milk” beverages at Saturday night’s party, donating every drop these sailors drank back to clean water. These may have been some of the most delicious dollars we’ve received recently!

When a swimmer was bitten in July by a white shark struggling to be free of an angler’s hook next to the Manhattan Beach Pier, the city banned fishing from the pier to protect public safety. The ban was lifted at the end of the summer, but the unfortunate incident prompted coastal communities with piers throughout L.A. County to consider similar bans. As an alternative, Heal the Bay recommended the establishment of a pier and sport angler educational program, where on-the-pier ambassadors educate the fishing public about local sharks and marine life and how to avoid catching these sharks.

The cities of Santa Monica, Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach along with L.A. County embraced the shark ambassador program, and all have contributed to support it. Kudos to these partners, who are helping us educate anglers on the important role sharks play in the ecosystem.

Corporate Healers play an integral role in cleaning our beaches while encouraging stewardship among their employees – not to mention providing their workers with a day at the beach. Thanks to Wells Fargo and Macerich for joining the program.

Students from low-income schools will have the opportunity to visit our Santa Monica Pier Aquarium for field trips thanks to the support of the UPS Foundation. Thanks so much for sponsoring youth education.  

And last but not least, happy 5th anniversary to the The Grilled Cheese Truck – and thanks to this traveliing wagon of cheesy goodness for donating proceeds from its celebration to Heal the Bay.

Off the coast of California, mile-long drift gillnets are left dangling in the ocean for hours as a part of the commercial swordfish and thresher shark fisheries. Unfortunately, these nets also entangle other animals that swim in their path, including endangered whales, white sharks, and sea turtles. The growing amout of so-called bycatch – the incidental entrapment and killing of non-targeted species – is a significant concern for our marine ecosystem. Heal the Bay is urging regulators to end this outdated and wasteful fishing method and support a better solution.

A healthy marine ecosystem is critical, both environmentally and economically in Southern California. Given the indiscriminate nature of this type of fishing gear, the drift gillnet fishery should transition to alternative types of gear that are actively tended. We need to minimize interaction with the myriad species of fish and wildlife that characterize California’s diverse and vibrant marine ecosystem.

Harpoons were the dominant method of fishing for swordfish for most of the 20th century, until California approved the use of drift gillnets in the early 1980s. Leaving mile-long nets to drift in the current for hours at a time – especially in the biologically diverse and rich California Current — results in chronic problems with bycatch.

In March 2014, West Coast fishery managers agreed that it’s time to shift the drift gillnet fleet to more environmentally sustainable types of fishing gear. However, rather than following through and encouraging a transition to less-wasteful alternatives that include harpoon and buoy gear, fishery managers are sliding and discussing allowing the current drift gillnet fishery to continue indefinitely.

Even with stricter limits in place, fishery managers expect that drift gillnets will continue to kill numerous species of marine life every year, including whales, dolphins, seals, sea lions, sea turtles, and several species of fish. We need to move away from drift gillnets when better, more selective alternatives exist.

Please act now. Members of the Pacific Fishery Management Council – an agency that oversees 119 species along the U.S. Pacific Coast – need to hear from you. Remind them of their commitment to shift away from drift gill nets to more selective fishing gear. If we are to enjoy abundant and healthy marine wildlife populations in the region, including swordfish, we need to encourage the Council to advance a transition to more sustainable gear in this fishery.

You can make your voice heard by clicking on this action alert.


Ruskin Hartley has decided to step down as CEO of  Heal the Bay. Here, he reflects on what his service has meant for him and the Bay. 

Oct. 1, 2014 — Last week, I was driving along PCH listening to Katy Perry sing about plastic bags floating in the wind and wondering whether that song was about to become history with the stroke of Gov. Brown’s pen.  I looked right at the ocean just before Temescal Canyon in Pacific Palisades, and there a few yards out two dolphins enjoyed the waves in the light of the early morning. It’s a sight I will cherish, even as I step away from my role as CEO of Heal the Bay and move back to Northern California to be closer to my young kids.

My decision this week to leave Heal the Bay by the end of the calendar year was ultimately an easy one.  We’ve had some big wins in the past year and laid the groundwork for the next phase of work for Heal the Bay.  Alix Hobbs, a 16-year veteran of Heal the Bay who most recently served as chief operating officer, has been promoted immediately to president and CEO.

Alix’s journey from volunteer to Programs and Educations Director to Associate Director to now CEO has given her the ideal perspective to manage across the entire organization. Dorothy Green, our founder and personal friend of Alix, would be proud to know she has assumed the reins.

I am immensely proud of what I’ve accomplished with the staff over the past year.  We’ve had some ground-breaking wins that will forever protect the bay and all of California’s coastal waters.

We led the charge on adoption of a statewide plastic bag ban, the first in the nation.  We have established an ambitious Local Coastal Plan in the Santa Monica Mountains.  And working with our partners in the beach cities, we created a Pier Ambassadors program in the South Bay to educate the general public about sharks in the Bay.

Under my leadership, Heal the Bay has become a more forceful advocate about water supply issues and other drought-related policies. Our science and policy team will continue to integrate these issues throughout all our programs and public initiatives. Heal the Bay will be a major player regionally in educating the public about drought and driving policy in the years to come.

While I will miss the Bay, I know that it’s in safe hands. I will continue to serve as an advisor to the organization through the end of the year.  I am looking forward to Thursday evening soccer practice up in the San Francisco Bay Area, safe in the knowledge that I played a part in making the Santa Monica Bay a safer place for those dolphins.

   Hartley, right, exploring PV Peninsula with our senior aquarist Jose Bacallao

Sept. 27, 2014 — This Saturday marks the opening weekend of the recreational lobster fishing season in California, officially beginning at 12:01 a.m. This is one of the busiest weekends on the water in Southern California, and it’s important that people stay safe and know the rules. So, here’s Heal the Bay’s cheat sheet to the recreational lobster regulations.

On the resource side, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife has been developing a spiny lobster fishery management plan (FMP) to ensure that the fishery is sustainable for both the commercial and recreational sectors, while keeping the Southern California lobster population healthy and thriving. Heal the Bay participates as the environmental stakeholder on the advisory committee for  the management plan.

Spiny lobster play an important role in our kelp forest and rocky reef systems, keeping things balanced by feeding on sea urchins, mussels, and other invertebrates. And, it’s not just people that enjoy rich, sweet taste of lobster, California sheephead, cabezon, horn sharks, and other animals also eat lobster. The good news is that lobster populations are doing pretty well in Southern California, generally.

There has been a commercial fishery in California for spiny lobster since the late 1800s, and now California’s lobster fishery is consistently one of the top five in the state. It is almost entirely  based in Southern California. This year, the commercial fishery season starts Oct. 1.

Because lobster are most active at night, recreational fishing also largely occurs in the dark. Conflicts between boats, divers, and hoop-netters are not uncommon during opening weekend. Here are a few tips to stay safe while lobster fishing, especially during the busy opening weekend:

  • Never dive alone. Always dive with a buddy, and keep him or her close. Divers who are dozens of feet apart may not be quick enough to respond in an emergency situation. When free-diving, one buddy should remain on the surface while the other dives in case of a shallow water blackout situation.
  • Don’t dive in areas you are unfamiliar with. If you’d like to try a new spot, check it out in the day first to familiarize yourself before heading out at night.
  • Watch the weather and ocean conditions. Winds and surge can threaten boats and divers, especially near rocky areas and close to shore.
  • If you are setting hoop-nets, be aware of your line. The polypropylene line can get tangled in your boat prop if you are not careful and may disable your boat.
  • Keep a back-up flashlight or headlamp aboard your boat. Divers should also carry a back-up dive light.
  • As a diver or boater, avoid encroaching on boats that have staked out a spot.
  • Inform someone at home of your dive plan or boat plan before you head out on the water.
  • When driving your boat at night, watch the water closely for lights and bubbles from submerged divers and avoid those areas. If you end up too close to divers, put your boat into neutral until you pass them to avoid an unsafe encounter.

And, here’s  a recap of  Department of Fish and Wildlife’s recreational lobster fishing regulations. Check the DFW website or sport-fishing guide for detailed regulations:

  • All recreational lobster fishermen 16 years old and older must have a valid sport fishing license.
  • All recreational lobster fishermen (regardless of age) must have a spiny lobster report card in their possession while fishing for lobster or assisting in fishing for lobster. Report cards issued after Aug. 1 are valid for the entire lobster season, and must be returned the Department of Fish and Wildlife or entered online by April 30, 2015. Failing to return the card or report catch online results in a $20 non-return fee upon next season’s report card purchase.
  • The recreational catch limit is seven lobster, and no more than one daily bag limit of seven can be taken or possessed at any time. (You cannot have more than seven lobster per angler at home at any given time). If you go out on a multi-day trip, you can file for a multi-day fishing trip declaration, which allows three times the daily bag limit.
  • Minimum size limit is 3.25 inch carapace length (measuring from the rear of the eye socket between the horns to the back of the body shell, or carapace). You must carry a lobster gauge to accurately measure catch. All undersize lobster must be released immediately after measurement.
  • Do not tail your lobster. Separating the tail from the head makes it impossible to determine whether the lobster is legal size or not, so the lobster must be landed whole.
  • Open season runs from the Saturday before the first Wednesday in October, through the first Wednesday after March 15. The 2014-2015 season runs from Sept. 27, 2014 – March 18, 2015.
  • Lobster can only be taken by hand or hoop net, and recreational fishermen are limited to no more than five hoop nets/person and vessels may not carry more than 10 hoop nets. When fishing from land, fishermen are limited to two hoop nets.
  • Interference with commercial traps or recreational hoop nets is prohibited.

Both commercial and recreational fishing are part of California’s coastal culture. And, charismatic lobster are also a favorite species to spot for non-consumptive divers, making great photo subjects as well. Be safe and have fun this lobster season!

More information is available on the Department of Fish and Wildlife website and through this tip-card

                                          Spiny lobsters are most active night, posing some challenges for divers.

Sarah Munro-Kennedy, an intern at our Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, spent her summer swimming with the sharks in Africa. Big ones!

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved sharks. Something about them has worked its way into my heart. I never knew what that something was until this summer. I’ve been diving with sharks numerous times before, but my dream had always been to see a white shark. This summer I was fortunate enough to travel to Gansbaai, South Africa to volunteer with an eco-tourism company called Marine Dynamics. I spent two weeks living a dream come true.

After arriving in Africa, my hosts took me to the chalets where all the volunteers stay. I claimed my bed and put my belongings down, grabbed my bikini, a towel, and my cameras.We were going straight to the boat to do our first dive! A quick 15-minute boat trip would take us from Kleinbaai harbor to Shark Alley.

The boat, called the Slashfin, was one of the fastest and most stable that I’ve ever been aboard. It’s named after a legendary nearly 15-foot male white that had severe damage to his dorsal fin. The secure diving cage on board had a perfectly sized slot to stick your underwater camera through, while also being small enough to protect the shark from getting trapped and possibly injured inside the opening.

When we reached Shark Alley, Kelly, the marine biologist  on board  told us about the different animals living on the islands on either side of Shark Alley. Dyer Island is located to one side, and is a protected bird sanctuary, home to 900 pair of endangered African penguins. On the other side is Geyser Rock, a  home to a colony of 60,000 Cape fur seals.

We continued on to a spot on the backside of Geyser Rock known as Wilfred’s Rock. The crew anchored Slashfin and dropped the cage in the water. They had everything ready on board: 7 mm hooded wetsuits, booties, masks, and a weight belt. I quickly got changed, grabbed my cameras and prepared myself to come face to face with one of the world’s oldest and most highly evolved apex predators.

As I climbed into the cage, the cold water chilled my bones.  I looked down and saw a shadow rising from the depths. Before I could fully submerge myself, a 12-foot  white shark surfaced inches from the cage, its dorsal fin gliding through the water like a hot knife through butter. It swam gracefully around, eyeing the cage, slowly looking at me and the other divers. The crew then tossed in a bait line and a wooden seal decoy that they use to draw the whites closer to the cage.

The shark disappeared but after a minute, two larger sharks appeared. One went straight for the bait, bumping it with its snout to see what it was. The other dropped down into the shadows. After a minute or two, the shark rose from the darkness. It lunged at the bait line, breaching, with its entire body out of the water. What an incredible sight.

Within an hour, I saw 17 whites. All of the sharks seemed highly curious, but not vicious, as they have been portrayed in numerous movies and stories. They never attacked the cage and never showed any aggression towards anything other than the bait and seal decoy. They were graceful, swift, and powerful.

For the next two weeks, I got to live my  dream of swimming with white sharks, over and over again. The trip marked one of the best experiences of my life, and I will definitely be returning next year for a much longer stay.

             A white shark takes the bait in Shark Alley off the coast of South Africa.

             A white shark breaching.

             From inside the shark cage!

            Still safely in the cage.

Aquarium Operations Manager José Bacallao, aka the Shark Kisser, is also the person responsible for the care of all live exhibits at the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium.

I love sharks. I know I am not alone in saying this. I know a ton of people that love sharks. My daughters love sharks, many of my friends love sharks and for the tens of thousands of kids who visit me at Heal the Bay’s Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, I hope you love them too! I know that my mother does not love sharks but that’s just silly. This love affair with sharks started when I was a kid, probably after seeing “Jaws.” There are more than 400 different species of shark and I love them all. We work hard at Heal the Bay and at our Aquarium to protect sharks and other sea creatures that live in our Bay. Last year I got to see my first white shark, “The Landlord,” while SUP-ing off Hermosa Beach. Then I got to see another on the 4th of July, and I’ll admit it: I shed a tiny tear. A grown man crying on his SUP with The Landlord cruising by. It was such a thing of beauty.

And they are cute, yes, cute. Sharks are cute, especially baby sharks, the “pups.” That’s what we call them, pups. No, I don’t always get teary when I see a shark pup. Sometimes I just get silly and do silly things — like this one time when I was SCUBA diving with my friend Jackie Cannata. She loves sharks too by the way. We were diving off Catalina Island and I saw this very tiny horn shark pup. It must have been about five or six inches long, as big as the palm of your hand. Then I did something I am quite embarrassed about – something I recommend you never do. I picked up the baby horn shark and I kissed it. I kissed the shark right on its head and then I gently let it swim away. 

I cannot imagine what that little shark thought about its first kiss — but I loved it. I won’t do it again. I promise to hold back, because honestly I’m pretty sure that horn shark was pretty upset about the whole incident. So I encourage you to love sharks as much as possible but try to restrain yourself when you feel a “Kiss Attack” coming on. If you are in need of your shark “fix” then I very much encourage you to visit us at the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, where you’ll get an up close encounter with horn sharks, swell sharks and leopard sharks. See you soon and feel free to ask for me by name — the Shark Kisser!

Close out Shark Week with a chomp this Sunday at the Aquarium: Shark feeding is at 3:30!

Aug. 13, 2014  — The city of Manhattan Beach last night agreed to let a ban on pier fishing expire in two weeks. Along with the ban’s expiration, additional fishing regulations will be implemented. The ban, imposed in July following an unfortunate incident where a hooked white shark bit a swimmer near Manhattan Beach Pier, was an effort to protect public safety. However, the City Council unanimously imposed a series of restrictions on anglers using the pier, whose waters attract a significant population of juvenile white sharks.

The new rules forbid the certain types of equipment that can be viewed as targeting white sharks, such as metal leader lines and excessively large hooks. Anglers will also not be permitted to chum the waters nor to cast overhead or directly into the surf zone.

The city also indicated that it would apply for a permit from the California Coastal Commission to restrict fishing to the end of the pier, which would reduce interactions with surfers and swimmers

Heal the Bay is concerned about prohibiting fishing from piers, because of the environmental justice issues it poses. Piers are one of the few places where people can fish without a fishing license in California. So they attract many subsistence anglers from throughout Los Angeles. They come to piers to fish for food due to the low cost and easy access.

The shark bite was a very unusual situation, and we believe closing piers to fishing goes beyond what should be done to reduce the risk of angler, shark, and beachgoer interactions.

As an alternative, Heal the Bay recommends the establishment of a pier and sport angler educational program that involves on-the-pier ambassadors that educate anglers about local sharks and marine life; which fish are allowed to target and which ones cannot be caught (e.g. white sharks); how to avoid catching these sharks and target other species; and to safely remove sharks and other marine life from their line.

State agencies, including the Department of Fish and Wildlife, have also raised concerns about the legality of prohibiting pier fishing. We also will provide input on better management practices at the pier that will help put a halt to irresponsible fishermen illegally targeting white sharks. It will take both education and more active restrictions/enforcement to achieve this goal.

Sharks play an important ecosystem role by keeping populations of other fish healthy and ecosystems in balance. In addition, a number of scientific studies demonstrate that the depletion of sharks can result in the loss of commercially important fish and invertebrates.

Despite popular perceptions of sharks as invincible, many shark populations around the world are declining due to overfishing, habitat destruction, and other human activities.

We look forward to working with the city and other stakeholders to find a solution that benefits both people and wildlife, and allows for a diversity of pier uses in Manhattan Beach and throughout the Santa Monica Bay.

By now, we all know that a swimmer was bitten by a white shark in Manhattan Beach last Saturday. Escape the media feeding frenzy with Heal the Bay scientists Sarah Sikich and Dana Roeber Murray as they inject a dose of reality into the sensationally roiling waters.

Why did this shark bite the swimmer?

A juvenile white shark, approximately 6-8 feet long, was caught by hook-and-line from Manhattan Beach Pier on the morning of Saturday, July 5. After the shark had been struggling for 40 minutes on the angler’s line, a group of ocean swimmers inadvertently crossed its path. As one swimmer passed over the thrashing shark, he was bitten on his side and hand. It is likely that the bite was accidental because the swimmer crossed the shark’s path while it was in distress. Shark experts call this a provoked attack because there was human provocation involved–in this case with a hook, line and fisherman. Any animal that’s fighting for its life is likely to feel provoked and threatened.

Why are there sharks in this particular area?

Santa Monica Bay is home to dozens of shark and ray species. Many of them are small, like the swell shark and horn shark, and live in kelp forests and rocky reefs. Juvenile great white sharks are seasonal residents of Southern California’s coastal waters, likely congregating in Santa Monica Bay due to a mixture of abundant prey and warm water. Manhattan Beach has been an epicenter for sightings over the past few summers. White sharks are frequently spotted by boaters, pier-goers, surfers and paddlers–especially between the surf spot El Porto and the Manhattan Beach Pier. Juvenile white sharks, measuring up to 10 feet, prey mostly on bottom fishes such as halibut, small rays and other small sharks.

What can I do to be safer while swimming in the ocean?

There are risks involved with any outdoor activity, so it’s important to be smart about where you swim. We’d like to remind people that poor water quality, powerful waves, strong currents and stingrays pose a greater threat to local ocean-goers than sharks. Instead of fearing the fin, swimmers should remember to shuffle their feet in the sand to avoid being stung by rays, be aware of lifeguard warnings about currents and waves and check Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card for water quality grades.

How can I reduce my chances of encountering a shark?

According to the Department of Fish and Wildlife, there have only been 13 fatal white shark attacks in California since the 1920s. Your own toilet poses a greater danger to life and limb than any shark. Swimmers and surfers have frequented Manhattan Beach for generations, and it is commonly known that the area is home to a seasonal population of juvenile white sharks. If you’re still concerned, here are some quick tips to avoid run-ins with fins:

  1. Avoid waters with known effluents or sewage.
  2. Avoid areas used by recreational or commercial fishermen.
  3. Avoid areas that show signs of baitfish or fish feeding activity; diving seabirds are a good indicator of fish activity.
  4. Lastly, do not provoke or harass a shark if you see one!

What should I do if I see a shark in the water?

First, assess the risk: If it is a small horn shark or thornback ray, it is safe to swim in the area–but keep your distance from the animal. If a larger shark is spotted, like a white shark, it is best to evacuate the water calmly, trying to keep an eye on the animal. Do not provoke or harass the shark. Report your shark sighting, with as much detail possible, to local lifeguards.

If you are one of the few people attacked by a shark (the odds are in your favor at 11.5 million-to-one), experts advise a proactive response. Hitting a shark on the nose, ideally with an inanimate object, usually results in the shark temporarily curtailing its attack. You should try to get out of the water at this time.

Should the city or county be looking at other shark safety precautions?

Los Angeles County lifeguards have a safety protocol of warning ocean-goers to exit the water when there has been a verifiable shark sighting, and this is a good protocol. Lifeguards may also close the beach temporarily to ocean-goers based on the risk. However, closing beaches for long periods of time due to shark sightings or closing piers to fishing will not likely reduce the risk, nor is it consistent with California’s laws or beach culture. We also recommend creating a program to educate sport and pier anglers about how to avoid catching sensitive species like white sharks and how to act responsibly if one is caught.

I enjoy fishing on the pier…what can I do to ensure I’m doing it safely?

If you enjoy fishing, it is best to avoid areas where there are lots of swimmers and surfers in the water. From swimmers getting tangled in fishing line to bait fish attracting predators to the area, fishing where people are in the water is not a good idea. Regarding pier fishing specifically, it’s important to note that many anglers who fish on municipal piers do it for subsistence–to put food on the table. Piers are one of the only places in the state where individuals do not need a fishing license, which reduces expenses and provides public access to fishing for everyone. However, anyone that fishes or hunts anywhere in California must adhere to the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife regulations. These regulations state that “white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) may not be taken or possessed at any time.”

Why are sharks worth worrying about? Why should we protect them?

Sharks are at the top of the food chain in virtually every part of every ocean. They keep populations of other fish healthy and ecosystems in balance. In addition, a number of scientific studies demonstrate that the depletion of sharks can result in the loss of commercially important fish and shellfish species down the food chain, including key fisheries such as tuna.

Despite popular perceptions of sharks as invincible, shark populations around the world are declining due to overfishing, habitat destruction and other human activities. It is estimated that over 100 million sharks are killed worldwide each year. Of the 350 or so species of sharks, 79 are imperiled, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. There are several important spots for Northeastern Pacific white sharks in California, yet they are vulnerable to ongoing threats, such as incidental catch, pollution and other issues along our coast. White shark numbers in the Northeastern Pacific are unknown but are thought to be low, ranging from hundreds to thousands of individuals. They’re protected in many places where they live, including California, Australia and South Africa.

What is Heal the Bay doing to protect wildlife while keeping people safe?

Heal the Bay works toward solutions that benefit both people and ocean wildlife, from advocating for pollution limits and cleaner beaches to supporting marine protected areas and more sustainable fishing practices. We closely monitor new and emerging science to inform these actions.

While fishing for white sharks in California is prohibited, there are no limits on white shark bycatch in U.S. fisheries. Sharks can be entangled as bycatch by set-and-drift gillnet fisheries in their nursery habitats off the coast of California. Although these fisheries target other fish like halibut and white seabass, they also incidentally catch sharks. Heal the Bay has recommended better drift gillnet regulations to reduce shark bycatch, including research to improve fishing practices, and advocating for increased observer coverage for bycatch on fishing vessels.

Shark finning, the practice of cutting fins from a living shark and then tossing its body back into the ocean to die, is another threat to sharks. Millions of sharks worldwide are killed for fins each year. Fortunately, states and countries worldwide are banning this practice. In 2011, a Heal the Bay-supported bill passed with tremendous public support, banning the trade of shark fins in California.

Please contact Heal the Bay if you’d like more information on our local shark population, swimmer safety and conservation efforts.