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Top photo: Courtesy of Matt Larmand
By Eric Heinz
According to San Clemente Marine Safety officials, the city’s beaches may have been closed due to shark activity more times in May than they have in the last 12 years.
“Hopefully they’re moving on, but it’s hard to predict the future and we’re monitoring the water,” said Rod Mellott, Marine Safety Lieutenant.
Most of the sharks seen from Trestles to Doheny have been great white juveniles.
San Clemente Marine Safety officials said between April 30 and June 6, San Clemente had about six cumulative days of closures and about 10 cumulative days of shark advisories. One official with Marine Safety said he had seen only one beach closure due to shark activity in his 12 years with the division.
Marine Safety uses a drone to detect sharks, but also for surveillance of all ocean activity. They collaborate with neighboring lifeguard agencies and Orange County Sheriff’s Department and use watercraft to scout the area. Marine Safety officials have been working with Chris Lowe, Ph.D., director of the Shark Lab at California State Long Beach, to track the sharks. Lowe attended the Tuesday City Council meeting and spoke about what he’s been seeing.
“What we’re seeing is something that hasn’t happened in (southern) California in 200 years,” Lowe said during the meeting. “This is not their main hangout.”
Lowe said the sharks he’s tracked from Belmont Shore have been tracked to Dana Point; however, the sharks tracked in Dana Point have not been leaving.
He also said because we’re seeing more sharks, this could be a sign that the coastlines are starting to become healthier, as the sharks are deterred from places where fish are not abundant.
Lowe said most juvenile white sharks eat fish and smaller creatures, but as they get older their appetites turn to larger marine mammals.
Mellott said people need to let lifeguards know immediately if they see a shark.
Junior Lifeguard programs at San Clemente are still scheduled, but Mellott said there have been some cancelations by people who had concerns about the sharks.
California State Parks Superintendent Rich Haydon, who manages San Onofre State Beach in south San Clemente, said they have not been tracking closures because they have only had one closure in May.
“The only closure we had was from the initial attack back in April, and we mirrored what the Camp Pendleton lifeguards were doing,” Haydon said, adding they’ve had advisories almost throughout the entire month.
Lifeguards will continue to monitor the beaches for sharks and close or issue advisories as needed. The policies follow an algorithm of sorts.