Huntington Beach waters reopen following shark sightings

File photo: A researcher stands on a jet ski while a baby white shark swims in waters below.
File photo: A researcher stands on a jet ski while a baby white shark swims in waters below.
Capt. Joe Bailey – Seal Beach Lifeguards

The waters along a 1-mile stretch of coast in Huntington Beach has reopened following shark sightings over the weekend.

The Orange County Sheriff’s Department spotted three sharks, each about 10–12 feet in length, in the waters off the northern edge of Sunset Beach on Sunday, according to Marine Safety Lt. Claude Panis of the Huntington Beach Fire Department.

That prompted authorities to close down ocean access for the rest of the day.

The waters were reopened at 10:30 a.m. Monday after follow-up patrols by helicopter and rescue boat reported no sign of the sharks.

Panis said the increase in the number of shark sightings in the last year and a half has been highly unusual.

“We’re seeing higher numbers of great white juveniles off of our beach, particularly around the Sunset Beach, surfside area — more than we’ve ever seen in the entire 38 years that I’ve been here,” Panis told KPCC.

Some experts attribute the increase in the number of attacks to a rebound in the shark population following years of conservation.

Chris Lowe, director of the Shark Lab at Cal State Long Beach, said this is early in the year for a shark attack, but he said it wasn’t totally surprising.

“More and more people are using the ocean than ever before,” he said. At the same time, shark populations are rebounding from decades of overfishing.

“Basically two generations of Americans had unfettered access to the ocean. We eliminated all those predators 50 to 100 years ago and now that they are protected, they are coming back,” Chris Lowe of the Shark Lab at Cal State Long Beach told KPCC in May.

Citing Lowe, Panis pointed out that healthier oceans could be leading to an increase in other sea life, too.

He offered some pointers for any beachgoers worried about an unwanted shark encounter.

The gist of it is this: treat the ocean like the wilderness it is and give anything you see out there plenty of space.

Panis also recommended checking in with lifeguards on the ocean conditions before entering the water. The biggest danger most people will face is a riptide.

If you see do see a shark, steer clear and report it to the nearest lifeguard.