Tides Have Turned with New Shark Deterrents

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Tanner Walker
Science & Tech Editor

Beachgoers traumatized from hearing about the recent great white shark sightings and attacks in Santa Barbara should have less to worry about next summer, at least if they travel to Orange County.

The beach community of Corona del Mar will be used as a testing ground for a sonar-based shark detection system that will be in place by Memorial Day in 2018. The system is made up of six “Clever Buoys” that will be placed along a 1,000 yard stretch near the coastline in one of the most popular and affluent beach areas in the county.

“Clever Buoy is a non-invasive alternative to shark deterrent methods in Australia and worldwide,” said Shark Management Systems, they parent company behind Clever Buoys. “One that is more efficient, economical, and humane.”

Each buoy is equipped with its own sonar system that allows it to detect movement in the water created by swimming sharks. The system is precise enough to not only detect large animals moving, but distinguish what type of animal it is based on swimming patterns and speed.

“Once a shark is detected, a real-time message is sent to the lifeguard towers via the Optus Network,” said Shark Management Systems.

Lifeguards can then use drones or boats to further investigate the shark’s behavior, and issue warnings or beach closures if necessary.

According to Department of Fish and Wildlife data, encounters where a shark actually comes in contact with a person more often than not result in injury or fatality. The DFW also reports that Great Whites account for 157 of the 177 reported shark encounters from the 1950s until now.

Shark sightings and attacks have become consistently more common in Southern California over the last few decades, and beaches have become more crowded, putting more people in danger.

Last year, a woman who was only 150 yards from shore was injured in a shark attack while training for an Ironman competition. Newport Beach also added a page on it’s website dedicated to “Shark and Ocean Education,” later that year.

In Santa Barbara County, there have been 18 reported shark encounters since the 1950s, second in that period only behind San Diego County, which has 20.

Shark sightings and encounters may be increasing for a few reasons. First, protection of marine life may be increasing the species’ overall population. Additionally, bans on commercial white shark fishing and the protection of their main food source, marine mammals, have both been in place for multiple decades.

Sharks currently rely on Southern California as a nursery and nearby islands off the coast of Mexico as a breeding grounds. Changing weather patterns and ocean temperatures could also be moving existing shark populations farther South, however. 

Warning systems like the Clever Buoy will not deter sharks from entering the waters near swimmers or change their behavior. However, they might be able to ease public fears and prevent close encounters.

Sharks will remain in the water regardless of what measures humans take to protect themselves, but if the system proves effective enough and lifeguards are able to respond quickly enough, it could allow them to clear beaches before an attack can happen.

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