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Shark sightings keep only some at bay

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By Sophia Carnevale
Arts & Entertainment Editor

This summer was full of sun, surf, and an alarming number of shark sightings up and down the central coast, according to officials.

In the last four months, there were 30 individual sightings reported at beaches stretching from Pismo to Cayucos, according to reports made to the Morro Bay Harbor Patrol.

“It’s their teeth. And they’re so much bigger than me. I feel like they could swallow me whole if they wanted” said Sarah Gaultney, a first year communications major, when describing her fear surrounding sharks.

For Morro Bay in particular, numbers are currently lower than last year but continue to rise with one white shark sighting already this month, according to Harbor Patrol officials.  Authorities were unable to retrieve comparative data for 2015 for sightings in  all of San Luis Obispo County in 2015.

“Sharks are very elusive. The sightings posted are not always a good representation of what is actually out there, but they are interesting” said Becka Kelly,  Harbor Patrol Supervisor at the Morro Bay Harbor Department.

Summer brings flocks of tourists to Central Coast beaches and shark sightings can scare away tourists in a very Jaws-esque way. Places like Morro Bay and Cayucos are some of the popular surf spots on the central coast and although these sightings may alarm average, everyday beach patrons, the presence of sharks is less threatening to surfers.

“Part of surfing is accepting that you aren’t the top of the food chain when you’re in the water; there’s always a chance a shark is lurking,” remarks Ian Bertrando, a second year philosophy major who’s been surfing at Morro Bay for over 6 years. “I’ve seen a few [sharks] out before which is always sketchy […] but that’s just a risk that you take when you paddle out.”

While there are a lot of theories as to why the sightings have increased, such as attributions to natural phenomena like El Nino, none of these theories are for certain. However, in juvenile white shark populations, there are a lot of substantial factors causing population increases.

“My best guess…that there is just a large group of juvenile white sharks coming up in the population,” says Steve Hendricks, a  professor of life science, environmental biology, marine science, and field studies here on campus.

Gillnetting, a fishing method that relied on large vertical panels of netting that would trap fish by their gills as they swam through, was banned in 1994.

“Gillnetting had a huge impact on juvenile white sharks and the prey they feed on,” Hendricks said. Since the ban, the threats to both ocean prey and predators has decreased.

Sharks play a very important part in the food chain, as well. As a predator of seals and sea lions, shark population increases could be beneficial to our local ecosystem because sea lion populations are currently at historical highs and fewer sea lions would benefit several other species like salmon and halibut, according to Hendricks.

There’s already been one sighting this month but with summer ending, shark sightings are likely to slow for the year. Concerned citizens should look to next spring and summer to see if the trend continues and what affects this will have.