Southern California Beaches Consider Implementing Early Shark-Detection Technology

Lifeguards are notified by text message if a sea creature greater than 6 feet long has passed through a virtual barrier, and exhibits patterns and behaviors similar to that of a great white.

by Laylan Connelly, The Orange County Register / September 21, 2017

(TNS) -- As Southern California grapples with an increased presence of sharks close to the coast — and on the heels of two attacks in less than a year — officials on Friday, Sept. 22, will speak in support of a pilot project using early-warning technology.

The system, to help prevent shark attacks along California’s coastline, is already in place in Australia.

A news release sent out by the office of Rep. Dana Rohrabacher said the system uses “new, early-warning technology to notify lifeguards that a shark has entered waters enjoyed by swimmers and surfers.”

Joining Rohrabacher, Friday, will be Newport Beach Mayor Kevin Muldoon, former world champion surfer Ian Cairns, and representatives of Shark Mitigation Systems, the Australian company that developed the technology.

Cairns, an Australian who now lives in Laguna Beach, has been watching the shark situation closely. He said he thinks Southern California is experiencing what Western Australia has gone through in the past decade. Since 2002, there have been 15 shark-related fatalities there, he said.

He scouted out this company in Australia that uses software to create a virtual barrier around surf and swim areas. It recognizes when a sea creature is greater than 6 feet long, and uses an algorithm to determine if its patterns and behaviors are similar to that of a great white.

Lifeguards are notified by text message and can follow up by heading out to get a closer look to determine if they need to shut down a beach.

Experts believe long-term protections, combined with a changing ocean climate, have contributed to a greater number of sharks lingering close to the coast.

“I love the idea of being in the ocean and the wilderness, but we have to understand there’s an increased risk here,” Cairns said. “We have a growing population of carnivorous animals.”

Great whites were first spotted in unusually large numbers in the South Bay about five years ago, before grouping together in Huntington Beach and Sunset about two years ago. This year, they made their way south and stayed off the San Clemente and Dana Point coast.

Leeanne Ericson, a mother of three, was swimming at San Onofre State Beach when she was bit by a shark last April and is still undergoing rehabilitation to use her right leg.

“If we have to live with it, let’s install this technology at the most popular places people surf — Doheny, Huntington Beach, Newport — where we can have safe zones to go to with a good degree of certainty that we will be OK,” Cairns said.

Some stretches of beach, such as Newport and San Clemente, have beacons that ping when tagged sharks are near the area. But data is only downloaded sporadically and the information is not delivered in real time.

Friday’s discussion will begin at 10 a.m. at Ocean Boulevard and Inspiration Point in Corona Del Mar, overlooking the area where Maria Korcsmaros was bit by an estimated 10-foot shark in May 2016.

In the statement, Rohrabacher said he is committed to seeing that the federal government plays a positive role in protecting those who enjoy California’s beaches from shark attacks.

“It’s clear that increasing numbers of sharks have been sighted in local waters here in Southern California,” he said. “In fact, there have been several recent attacks, including a nearly fatal one here at Big Corona in Corona Del Mar. This technology can help us save lives and give people confidence in our local beaches.”

Register reporter Martin Wisckol contributed to this report.

©2017 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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