Senior Editor

The Inertia

If you surf in Southern California, there’s a good chance you’ve been close to a great white shark without ever knowing it. In the video above, shared by YouTube scientist Carlos Gauna, a great white comes very, very close to a swimmer.

“When I filmed this,” Gauna says, “I was truly concerned for the swimmer. However, upon reviewing the footage with a scientist from the Shark Lab at California State University Long Beach, something very interesting was pointed out. It could give us valuable insights into the shark’s near-shore behaviors.”

Great whites, especially juveniles, are common in Southern California, and a study from 2023 found that they’re even more common than anyone thought. Although that may seem frightening, it shouldn’t be. Instead, it’s a little more proof that we’re not on the menu and that most attacks are accidental, usually test bites. The problem with great white sharks, though, is that a “test bite” can have terrible outcomes.

“It’s not just about sharks, it’s about people,” Christopher Lowe, professor of marine biology at Cal State Long Beach and director of the school’s Shark Lab, said in a statement after the 2023 study was released. “This study may change people’s perception of the risk sharks pose to people that share the ocean with them.”

In the study, which looked at two sites in southern Santa Barbara County and central San Diego County, sharks between the age of one and five were spotted in groups. At those two locations, the sharks were sharing the ocean with people a whopping 97 percent of the time.

“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,” Patrick Rex, a lab technician at the Shark Lab, said in a statement. “Most of the time water users didn’t even know the sharks were there, but we could easily see them from the air.”

Gauna, who is always quick to reveal that he is not a marine biologist, is simply a man with a drone who has a passion for sharks. He spends much of his time searching them out, and his footage has helped researchers immensely. “My goal is to use photography and drones to bring awareness to wildlife and the nature around us,” he explains. In the video above, he breaks down what the young sharks might be doing.

“Notice how the shark zig zags along the surf zone,” he says. This zig zag pattern is a technique the sharks use when they’re hunting for fish and rays. What appears to be a shark turning towards the young swimmer is actually the shark continuing its pattern along the beach and surf.”

While it’s definitely a good idea to stay away from sharks, the fear many have of them is — at least from a scientific standpoint — relatively unwarranted. Still though, it’s easy to understand why we’re a little leery of a creature that has evolved to be one of nature’s most perfect hunters. But when an expert breaks things down, it does help a bit.

Editor’s Note: Learn more about sharks in Ocean Ramsey’s Guide to Sharks and Safety.


Only the best. We promise.


Join our community of contributors.