Researchers Are Baffled By Increase Of Sharks In Shallow Waters

by Lily Feinn

With Memorial Day right around the corner, people on both coasts are planning to slather on some sunscreen and hit the beach, but a host of recent shark sightings in shallow water may dampen holiday plans this year. This disturbing trend has been happening on both the East and West Coast, leading to numerous beach closures, close calls, and even a few life-threatening attacks. When I head to the beach, my main concerns are getting stung by a jelly fish or my toe pinched by a crab, not a full-blown Jaws-like situation — but that may soon change. Oh great Poseidon, why did you have to send your shark minions just when I bought a new bathing suit??

In a special report, Today examined this fishy phenomenon, following a team of concerned researchers fighting to get the situation under control in a humane and safe way. Footage has been captured of schools of Great White sharks swimming near a beach full of people in South Carolina, as well as the fin of a Great White cresting from the surface of the water close to the shore in Long Beach, California. "This is where we swim, this is where our kids swim, this is about as far out as I would come with my kids. It's scary," correspondent Jeff Rossen adds.

If you're having flashbacks to last summer's Blake Lively vehicle "The Shallows," you are definitely not alone. Shark attacks have become more common, with one Florida teen suffering a bite in April, and a surfer in Hawaii mauled by a 12-foot beast, luckily, escaping with his life. Most recently, a single mother of three's leg was mauled when wading at a popular Southern California beach earlier this month.

Researchers from the California State University Shark Lab are tracking and tagging the sharks in hopes of finding out what is attracting these new visitors. Once a shark is captured, the researchers attach what they describe as a "FitBit for sharks" which tracks what the shark is experiencing on a "moment to moment basis." The device, which is strapped to the Great White's dorsal fin, even contains a camera so the researchers can see through the eyes of the shark. Cameras have also been placed underwater at popular California beaches with facial recognition technology, so repeat offenders can be identified and, in time, we can unravel the mystery of why these sharks are braving the shallows.

Shark sightings are not uncommon along the California coast, but due to the increased sightings, extra precautions are being taken to monitor beaches and keep swimmers safe. Lifeguards are using drones to spot approaching sharks, so that beaches can be closed sooner when a sighting occurs. Nervous swimmers shouldn't worry about staying out of the water entirely, as attacks are still very rare; most of the time you will not see a shark in the water and they will swim right by you. If you do happen to spot a shark, the best thing to do is to keep calm and watch its movements. If the shark seems agitated, don't be Blake Lively and stop paddle boarding and find a rock, a kelp bed, or head to shore.