On May 10, a group of paddleboarders in Southern California heard an unsettling announcement coming from a helicopter above them: “You are paddleboarding next to approximately 15 great white sharks,” Deputy Brian Stockbridge, of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, said over the helicopter’s loudspeaker. Toddler great white sharks, to be exact.
The paddleboarders were advised to calmly make their way closer to shore.
Dana Point Beach had become a daycare for baby and 1- to 2-year-old toddler great white sharks. The paddleboarders gave the babies some space, but in general, baby sharks aren’t a sign to stay completely away.
In fact, beachgoers in that area swim around baby sharks all the time and don’t even know it.
“For the last 10 years, these babies have been out there, and, in some cases, they’ve been at some of our most popular beaches in Southern California, [where people have been] swimming unknowingly among these baby white sharks, and nothing has happened,” Chris Lowe, director of the Shark Lab at California State University, Long Beach, told LiveScience.
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Toddler great white sharks don’t receive any training from their parents, so they wouldn’t see humans as enemies, Lowe said.
You should still avoid remote parts of the beach, added Andrew Nosal, an assistant professor of biological sciences at Saint Katherine College in San Marcos, California.
The large volume of toddler great white sharks may also be a positive sign for the health of the great white population. Thanks to fishing protections and marine mammal recovery, shark populations have been growing over the last 10 years.
Another benefit to swimming in (baby) shark-infested waters? The little guys’ favorite snacks are stingrays, which swim in shallow water and can sting swimmers.
Benefits aside, shark experts remind us that whenever we swim in the ocean, we’re really just having a playdate at the sharks’ house anyway.
“It is important to remember there is no such thing as ‘shark-infested waters.’ Whether we like it or not, this is the sharks’ home, and you cannot infest your own home,” Nasal said. “We share that space with the sharks and always have to remember that.”