Environment & Science

Shark 'chumming' has Long Beach officials scrambling

An underwater shot of a white shark.
An underwater shot of a white shark.
CSULB Shark Lab

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Shark sightings in local waters have been increasing in the past couple years, but some people aren’t waiting for it to happen naturally. Long Beach officials report many are throwing bait in the water in hopes of drawing sharks near.

Gonzal0 Medina, chief of the Marine Safety Division in Long Beach, said "shark chumming" is mostly done by private citizens or commercial fishing vessels contracted out by individuals. They try and stir up shark activity by throwing "chum" - chopped up fish guts - overboard. 

Medina is also concerned that film crews may also be involved in attempts to get close-up shots of sharks in their natural habitat. Earlier this month, authorities stopped a team from National Geographic from shark chumming. 

It's hard for officials to stop boats from the practice, Medina said. "It's difficult to sneak up on a boat with a red patrol boat approaching," he said. "We usually don't actually witness the activity."

Shark sightings have increased throughout the region as a result of populations recovering over the last few years. Medina says that businesses boasting shark tours are now cropping up in the area and could be related to reports of chumming. 

“I think there’s an incentive that if you take people out, you see something,” he said.

Medina says shark chumming is a huge public safety issue. Long Beach is a popular spot year-round for beach goers. The area also boasts a large junior lifeguard program with over 700 kids from age 9 to 17 participating in activities in the water and on the shoreline.

Authorities are particularly concerned with disrupting the shark’s natural feeding patterns. 

A spike in beach shark sightings in the summer is common with their return from winter migration to warmer waters south of the border.

But interfering with shark behavior is harmful to both people and sharks, according to Dr. Chris Lowe with the Shark Lab at Cal State Long Beach. He said they're at the beach for the same reason we are - looking for a warm, safe place to hang out. 

"What we want is for the sharks to do what they normally do - and usually that has nothing to do with people," he said. 

Lowe estimates that there are around 3,000 sharks in the Northeast Pacific region.  

Long Beach issued a shark advisory last month after Orange County Sheriff helicopters captured images of sharks swimming near the beach - including next to a group of paddle-boarders.

The beach in San Clemente also closed in May as a result of more than two dozen shark sightings over a few days.

Lowe said that if you catch boats shark chumming this summer, report it to authorities.