In clear footage shot above and below the water, paddleboarders in Southern California recorded a recent encounter with a group of juvenile great white sharks just off a popular beach.
Shot on June 26 at Sunset Beach in Orange County, the video was made by Courtney Hemerick and Joseph Truckles, who remained calm through the experience.
“I think where these guys were and what they were doing was probably fine,” says Gregory Skomal, a senior marine fisheries scientist and shark expert with the state of Massachusetts.
The 7-foot (2-meter) long sharks are juvenile great whites, which often congregate in protected bays and right off the surf zone along both U.S. coasts, particularly in California. The juveniles eat mostly fish, though they sometimes scavenge dead carcasses. When they grow up they become top predators, reaching sizes of up to 20 feet (6 meters) long and weights of up to 5,000 pounds (2,268 kilograms). The adult fish dine on other sharks, seals, dolphins, and whatever else they can catch.
“The sharks in the video are probably checking the paddlers out, with a level of curiosity but also a level of caution because they don't know what they are looking at,” says Skomal. (Learn about shark attacks on the rise in North Carolina.)
Since the animals often do feast on floating carcasses, they might have initially been attracted to the shapes at the surface. But such sharks “are very unlikely to bite,” says Skomal.
Such juveniles haven’t developed the skills for attacking larger prey. Adult great whites, on the other hand, are known to occasionally bite surfers and surfboards, exercising their roles as top predators in the ocean. One third to a half of all shark attacks are attributed to great whites. For this reason, experts recommend against swimming or paddling near seal colonies, where adult great whites sometimes congregate.
Although sharks are rapidly declining around the world due to fishing and pollution, great whites appear to be making a slow comeback in North American waters, thanks to legal protections. These kinds of encounters are likely to increase, says Skomal, especially as more people have access to video cameras and even drones (which recently recorded great whites off a California beach).
It’s important to remember that the ocean is sharks’ natural habitat and people should never harass them, both for their safety and the safety of the animals, Skomal adds.