CSULB's Shark Lab

Professor Chris Lowe holds a baby shark at CSULB's Shark Lab.

Take a swim this summer off the coast of Long Beach and there may be an unexpected encounter with a pair of sharp teeth.

But more than likely, the encounter will be only a glimpse of a shark.

California State University, Long Beach, marine biologists issued an advisory last week cautioning beach-goers of an increase in baby shark population due to warmer waters brought on by this year’s El Niño.

May is typically when baby sharks start appearing off southern California’s shores, according to Dr. Christopher Lowe, head of the CSULB Shark Lab.

“There will be more sightings,” Lowe said. “People aren’t used to seeing them. They’re going to have to get used to it.”

While this may seem daunting to some, it’s actually a good thing as it means efforts to protect the environment have worked and in turn, there is more food for sharks to eat, resulting in a higher number of the predatory animals, Lowe said.

“When that happens, it’s a sign of a healthy ecosystem,” he said.

Lowe said people shouldn’t be afraid of shark attacks, but rather arm themselves with knowledge.

“The best thing is to know about sharks when they visit beaches,” Lowe said. “Ask the lifeguards or get information elsewhere.”

He also said the chances of getting attacked by a shark were slim.

“Hundreds of sharks may swim by people on a daily basis without them even knowing,” Lowe said. “The fact is that shark attacks are very rare.”

Lowe offered advice if people encounter sharks.

Sharks give out a signal that may be a sign of aggression, which is moving their tail back and forth, Lowe said. If this happens, people should keep their eyes on the shark and back away slowly, he said. Staying in a group is another way to avoid an attack, he added.

To continue the studies, Lowe and his students need sophisticated, expensive equipment — and they need help acquiring it, he said.

A Shark Lab graduate student, Connor White, developed the Smart Shark Tag, which is clamped to the shark’s dorsal fin. It contains a 3D accelerometer, 3D gyrometer, depth and temperature sensors, a tiny videologger, an acoustic transmitter and a radio transmitter.

The tag records what the shark sees, water temperature, depth, speed and is programmed to release and return to the surface, where it’s recovered and reused.

The Smart Shark Tag costs $6,800 when it’s fully equipped with a videologger and is $915 without. The lab needs two of these devices, Lowe said. He also said they need three of a smaller version, used for smaller sharks, which are $2,250 each. The radio receiver and antenna to recover the tags cost $2,175.

Another device the lab uses is an autonomous underwater robot, Iver 2, made by Ocean Server, which can be programmed to follow sharks or other animals.

“It stealthily follows the shark and mimics the shark’s behavior,” Lowe said.

The Iver 2 gathers information using devices attached to it, such as a video camera, GPS, WiFi antenna and other sensors, to record the shark’s every movement and provide explanation for their behavior. The robot is about $200,000, so CSULB Shark Lab students have created a partnership with engineering students of Professor Chris Clark at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, which has the robots, Lowe said.

Although the price tags for the devices are high, they allow biologists to answer questions about animals’ behavior, such as why certain species congregate in specific areas, Lowe said. That knowledge of the environment can avoid manmade disasters, Lowe said.

“It will save millions of dollars over time,” Lowe said.

To donate to or for more information on the Shark Lab, visit http://www.csulb.edu/explore/shark-lab.

Emily Thornton can be reached at ethornton@gazettes.com.

Emily is a staff writer covering higher education and other various topics for Gazette Newspapers. She has a background in weekly and daily newspapers and a bachelor’s in communication from La Sierra University.

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