Shark bait draws warn­ing

Long Beach urges film crews not to lure preda­tors with fish guts.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Veron­ica Rocha veron­ica.rocha @la­times.com Twit­ter: @Veron­i­caRochaLA

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With a siz­zling heat wave ex­pected to drive South­ern Cal­i­for­nia res­i­dents to beaches this week­end, life­guards in Long Beach are urg­ing an­glers and film crews to stop at­tract­ing sharks with bloody chum.

The warn­ing comes at a time of in­creased shark ac­tiv­ity along the Cal­i­for­nia coast. A sea­sonal glut of ju­ve­nile great white sharks has prompted the tem­po­rary clo­sure of sev­eral beaches and re­sulted in the in­jury of at least two surfers.

Long Beach safety of­fi­cials said they were alarmed re­cently to hear re­ports of film crews toss­ing fish guts near shore in or­der to draw the preda­tors closer to their cam­eras.

“There is no shot worth some­body’s life — we are all re­spon­si­ble for main­tain­ing pub­lic safety,” said fire­fighter-para­medic Jake He­flin, spokesman for the Long Beach Fire Depart­ment.

Life­guards have re­cently spot­ted film crews as well as com­mer­cial and recre­ational fish­ing ves­sels throw­ing chum into the wa­ter to lure sharks near the Long Beach har­bor, He­flin said.

When life­guards ap­proached the groups, the ac­tiv­ity of­ten stopped, he said.

On one oc­ca­sion re­cently, life­guards in­ter­vened be­fore a film crew with Na­tional Ge­o­graphic could be­gin chum­ming, He­flin said. He said the crew was co­op­er­a­tive.

The re­cent chum­ming ac­tiv­ity has been a sig­nif­i­cant pub­lic safety is­sue for the Fire Depart­ment, he said. As the depart­ment gears up for the busy sum­mer beach sea­son and pre­pares to launch its ju­nior life­guard pro­gram, He­flin said, of­fi­cials are wor­ried that swim­mers could have an un­pleas­ant en­counter with a shark lured to the shore with bait.

“I know ev­ery­body wants the pic­ture, but you put peo­ple’s lives at risk,” He­flin said. “You re­ally have to ques­tion why you are do­ing that.”

Life­guards have been look­ing for chum­ming ac­tiv­ity along the shore, but en­force­ment has been dif­fi­cult, he said. They must ob­serve peo­ple toss­ing fish into the ocean to be able to is­sue a ci­ta­tion for pol­lut­ing the wa­ter, He­flin said.

“When we do see it, we are cit­ing,” He­flin said.

Along with the ci­ta­tions, life­guards have been con­duct­ing ad­di­tional pa­trols of the wa­ter, he said. Signs posted along the wa­ter’s edge warn beach­go­ers of shark sight­ings.

Over the spring, the Fire Depart­ment re­ceived nu­mer­ous re­ports of sharks in the wa­ters off Penin­sula Beach. Ju­ve­nile great white sharks, typ­i­cally 5 to 6 feet long, have been reg­u­larly spot­ted near the shore.

Ex­perts said the Cal­i­for­nia coast is swarm­ing with young sharks at­tracted to its safe ecosys­tem. Young sharks feed off a rich sup­ply of st­ing rays, and preg­nant fe­male sharks pre­fer South­ern Cal­i­for­nia’s warmer wa­ter for ges­ta­tion.

“It’s a nurs­ery for young sharks,” said Chris Lowe, head of the Shark Lab at Cal State Long Beach.

But there is no way to tell how many sharks in­habit the wa­ters off South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, he said.

More state and fed­eral pro­tec­tions have al­lowed the preda­tor pop­u­la­tion to thrive over the last 20 years.

But feed­ing the sharks could change their be­hav­ior, Lowe said.

Sharks could be­come com­pla­cent and rely on chum to sur­vive. They could be­come ag­gres­sive and also linger in the wa­ters for longer pe­ri­ods.

“In gen­eral, it’s a bad idea,” he said.

Pho­to­graphs by Allen J. Sch­aben Los Angeles Times

KITE SURFERS take to the wa­ter last month in Long Beach. Not­ing re­cent shark ac­tiv­ity, of­fi­cials are urg­ing film crews not to bait the preda­tors. “I know ev­ery­body wants the pic­ture, but you put peo­ple’s lives at risk,” a Long Beach Fire Depart­ment spokesman said.

RE­SEARCHERS WITH Cal State Long Beach look for sharks last month, when an ad­vi­sory was is­sued af­ter ju­ve­nile great whites were spot­ted in shal­low wa­ters.

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