Environment & Science

Hammerhead sharks don't want to be friends, and other SoCal El Niño tips

File: A hammerhead shark at the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, Georgia on May 2, 2009.
File: A hammerhead shark at the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, Georgia on May 2, 2009.
istolethetv/Flickr Creative Commons

The latest in a string of viral videos featuring aggressive hammerhead sharks near Southern California beaches surfaced Monday.

The most recent features kayaker-fisherman Mark McCracken, repeatedly smacking a relentless, charging shark with his paddle. He apparently wasn't too worried about it;  the video is set to WAR's playful "Why Can't We Be Friends."

Instagram video

"I was trolling for bonito yesterday when out of nowhere this tweaked out hammerhead started ramming and biting my kayak," McCracken wrote on Instagram on Monday. "I had to hit him over 20 times before he finally gave me some space but still stalked me for a half mile all the way back to shore. Even after I was on shore, he paced back and forth in about 3 feet of water like he was just waiting for me to come back out."

The video follows several other hammerhead sightings, including an earlier attack on a kayaker in Malibu and another near Huntington Beach

The reason for all the hammerhead shark sightings? El Niño conditions, which has brought warmer waters to the California coast.

"The hammerheads are following the food that's coming up with the warm water," California State University, Long Beach marine biology professor Christopher Lowe tells KPCC. "So, when fishermen are out there and they have bait in the water, that just brings the hammerheads in."

When that hammerhead comes up to you trying to steal your bait, or even if you're just out in a boat and not fishing, the easiest way to deal with a hammerhead according to Lowe: do nothing.

"If the animal is actually banging the kayak, or trying to knock them over, sure, you can hit them with a paddle, but for the most part, if you just leave, the animals will leave you alone," Lowe said.

Hammerheads are likely to remain with us through the winter and possibly even into the spring, according to Lowe, because oceanographers predict continued El Niño-like conditions. He added that hammerhead sharks are likely to move even farther north.

"For example, in past strong El Niños, like the one in '97 and the one in the mid-'80s, there were hammerheads and whale sharks being detected all the way up to places like Monterey," Lowe said.

Lowe said that, due to the El Niño conditions, you can see southern species that aren't typical for the area, including hammerheads, tiger sharks and bull sharks.

"When we have El Niños, strong El Niños like we have now, it's really a different ocean out there," Lowe said.