Great white sharks found near swimmers, surfers 97% of the time at California beaches

A new study on juvenile white sharks may ruin the relaxed vibes of California beach visitors this summer — or make them more aware of how to safely interact with the predators.

Sharks are more common at some beaches than previously thought, a two-year study from Long Beach State Shark Lab found.

The report used video and photo documentation from 1,500 drone flights over 26 Southern California beaches.

For the first time, researchers were able to document just how close juvenile great white sharks get to people wading, swimming, surfing and paddleboarding.

The study was published in the journal PLOS. No shark bites at the observed locations were reported during the study.

The research, conducted by graduate student Patrick Rex, used aerial surveys of the nearshore ocean waters along 26 beaches of the Southern California coastline.

Juvenile white sharks tend to “aggregate” in groups along shores near beaches before maturing and becoming more solitary individuals, the lab said in a news release.

“At aggregation sites, water users were found in proximity to sharks 97% of the days surveyed,” said Patrick Rex, the graduate student who conducted the study. “The juvenile white sharks were often observed within 50 yards of where the waves break, putting surfers and stand-up paddle boarders in the closest proximity to sharks at the aggregation sites. Most of the time water users didn’t even know the sharks were there, but we could easily see them from the air.”

The findings are valuable on a few levels, said Christopher Lowe, professor of marine biology and director of shark lab.

“I think people will be shocked by these findings — we never expected to see so many encounters every day with no incidents,” Lowe said in the news release. “We’re also using drones to examine how white sharks behave when they are near people and how they may tell the difference between surfers and swimmers.”

Lowe said the study may change people’s perception of the risk sharks pose as they share the ocean, and also help lifeguards in advising beachgoers how to be safe in the water.

This drone surveillance method used can also be used for future approaches for research, education, or overall beach safety purposes, Lowe said.