Tagging White Sharks ...

Dr. Andrews tags a white shark from the Coronado Beach Lifeguards’ rescue craft on Dec. 2, 2020.

On Wednesday, Dec. 2, after our ocean swim down the beach to the Hotel Del Coronado from G Avenue near the maintenance shed, James Murphy and I joined our local watermen friends Steve Ogles (surfer, swimmer, underwater camera pioneer and founder of Water Shot), Bill Bender (retired San Diego City Lifeguard Sergeant, international spearfisherman and all around waterman extraordinaire), Roger Odiorne (surfer and international spearfisherman) at the Coronado Main Lifeguard tower to meet with Dr. Chris Lowe’s graduate students from the Long Beach State Shark Lab and Coronado Beach Lifeguard Captain Sean Carey and his lifeguards for another shark tagging project. This time Lowe’s post doctorate, Dr. James Andrews, would be in charge of the Shark lab team in Lowe’s absence.

On November 18, 2020, the Coronado Beach Lifeguards and Shark Lab grad students tagged the first white shark, a seven-foot female, “Artemis,” and almost tagged a second shark. Again, the team of researchers and our Coronado Beach Lifeguards used a drone to spot the sharks and vector the two Coronado Lifeguard craft, a Rescue Water Craft and Inflatable Rescue Boat, to film and hopefully tag the sharks. Patrick Rex, the graduate student drone pilot, located a white shark and the team went out in the rescue craft to investigate. It turned out to be a tagged shark, likely Artemis.

Since Nov. 18, I had logged over 13 ocean miles swimming up and down Coronado Beach on 13 of 14 days and had not had any issues, and Artemis was likely there the entire time.

It was not until about 11:15 a.m. Dec. 2 that the team began tracking a white shark at in the vicinity of Tower 5C (what locals would call North of the G Avenue maintenance shed but is actually West). Odiorne rode his beach bike up North (what is actually west) and would film the tagging process with his cell phone from the shore. After filming the shark’s markings and determining she was a female, Andrews tagged an 8 foot female at 11:31 a.m. The team quickly picked up a second shark in the same vicinity of Tower 5 C North. At approximately 11:46 a.m., Andrews tagged a second 8 foot white shark (sex to be determined from underwater camera footage).

About this time, Coronado Fire Chief Jim Lydon arrived to observe the team from the beach with Coronado Beach Lifeguard Captain Carey. Previously on Nov. 18, Lydon and City Manager Blair King had monitored the tagging operations via radio.I learned from talking with Andrews, and graduate students Bobby Hyla and Jack May, the team has tagged 51 white sharks in Southern California to this date.

Anderson related they had observed large aggregations of sharks in various parts of Southern California including 11 in one day at Del Mar and eight at Torrey Pines. Andrews confirmed what I had learned from Lowe that at about 10-11 foot range there was a distinct transition from the juveniles hunting smaller fish especially stingrays to the larger adults pursuing fish and sea mammals. Graduate student Rex said he had observed and filmed sea lions leave bait balls (a concentrated school of fish and an easy dinner) to bully juvenile white sharks who were swimming nearby. The sharks were not competing for the schooling fish but merely in the area. The sea lions would chase and nip at the white sharks who would flee.

At 12:35 p.m., a fourth white shark was sighted, however the tagging attempt at 12:36 pm was unsuccessful just North (actually west) of the Main Coronado Lifeguard Tower. At approximately 12:43 p.m. May tagged an 8 foot white shark (sex to be determined from underwater camera footage). The team would conduct two biopsy samples on sharks which had been tagged, during the tagging operations. These are like little core samples which have DNA and a lot more information about the individual sharks for doctors Lowe, Anderson and their students to study.

At approximately 1:03 p.m., the team spotted a 6 foot white shark a little North (actually west) of Main Tower. The animal was headed north and lost at approximately 1:20 p.m. This was the fifth shark identified on this day in less than five hours.I was very impressed by the Coronado Beach lifeguard’s skill piloting the rescue craft especially during personnel and gear exchanges in the surf.

While they make it look easy on a crazy, crowded, big wave summer days; our Coronado Beach Lifeguards have a lot of practice like today on a cold, 56 degree, surfable day during the winter, on a not quite so jam packed beach. Anderson echoed Lowe’s and graduate students’ comments that part of their mission is education, and they would like to educate the Coronado residents, particularly children and their parents, about the white sharks’ behavior and answer questions about what they know and what they would like to find out about these animals.

What would help them, and our Coronado Beach Lifeguards are real time buoys that record not only the presence of tagged sharks but also water conditions that our lifeguards would be able to use. Is it 30 different sightings of Artemis by different patrons and our guards in the tower or a larger animal that Carey and the Beach Lifeguards should be concerned about? I got in the ocean after the tagging for an evening swim from G to 5C and back.

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