We don’t have to tell you about the population increase of a certain pelagic fish species in Southern California waters. (The voice in your head probably reminds you of it every time you see a dark shadow in the lineup.)
Following last summer’s unprecedented sharkiness, some officials are looking to get a little more clever about shark attack prevention. As in, some officials are eyeing the Clever Buoy shark warning system developed by the Australian company Shark Mitigation Systems.
On Friday, Newport Beach Mayor Kevin Muldoon and surfing congressman Dana Rohrabacher announced their intent to launch a $1 million pilot program near the Newport Harbor jetty. If they are able to get funding, they want to install six of the sonar buoys and equipment on the sea floor to protect a 1,000-foot area. The program would last 1 to 2 years.
The buoys are equipped with software that detects sharks larger than six feet and beams a signal to lifeguards so they can investigate or close a beach when one is spotted. The software can tell the difference between a shark, seal, and dolphin, says Aussie surfer Ian Cairns, who lives in Orange County and is a representative for the company.
“You have a virutal barrier that simply enables sharks to be detected and within seconds the lifeguards are notified about an incursion,” he says.
Cairns is a native of West Australia, which has seen a series of brutal attacks and deaths over the past 15 years. He says the attacks followed an increase of great whites resulting from marine protections. Sound familiar?
“This pattern is exactly the same here. We’re about to go into where the juveniles grow up and mature, and we’re going to start seeing more attacks,” Cairns says.
The presence of so many juvenile great whites in recent months can only mean one thing as they get older: Larger sharks in larger numbers, he says. Southern California hosts several nursing grounds for great whites, in Ventura County, Santa Monica Bay, and Orange County. Great whites born here follow migration patterns to offshore islands and along the West Coast, but they may return to Southern California, too.
“All of the shark sightings occurring have been juveniles. But the migratory trek is circular, and they come back through the areas where they were born,” Cairns says.
There are already buoys in place in California that record the presence of tagged sharks. But that infrastructure, part of the famed Shark Lab, does not record untagged sharks.
Cairns says he’s seen great whites at San Onofre three times while in the water with his three children.
“The bottom line is I’ve seen this movie before in West Oz, and the same thing is happening in northeast Oz. From Byron Bay to Ballina, the same thing is playing out — world-famous spots where people are afraid to go surfing.”
Clever Buoys have been in development for more than six years and have no negative impact on marine life, Cairns adds. Cairns and local officials are shooting to have the program up and running by Memorial Day. The buoys have been tested at Sydney’s Bondi Beach and have been available commercially since 2016.