A baby great white shark was spotted just off California’s Manhattan Beach on Friday, hours after nearby Huntington Beach was briefly closed following a sighting of what could likely have been the same shark.
The white shark was first observed at 10:49 a.m. by an Anaheim police helicopter just off Huntington Beach, according to CBS Los Angeles. The helicopter crew initially estimated the shark to be between 10 and 12-feet-long, big enough to trigger the closing of nearby beaches.
— CBS Los Angeles (@CBSLA) November 20, 2015
Huntington Beach Marine Safety Lt. Claude Panis noted that a jetski was dispatched to investigate the shark, using the helicopter as a guide. When the lifeguard approached the great white, he found that the shark was actually much smaller than first estimated, measuring just over seven-feet-long. Panis noted that this size makes the animal a baby, and that it is typical of the sharks which authorities have been observing in the region all year. As such, the closure of Huntington Beach lasted no more than 15 minutes.
Around 12:30 p.m, another sighting was recorded when a great white shark was spotted some 200 yards off El Porto Beach, located in the Manhattan Beach area. As the Orange County Register points out, a news helicopter captured pictures of the shark later that afternoon.
Although it remains unclear if the two sightings were of the same shark, the similar size reported in each instance makes it a possibility. Numerous white sharks have been spotted in the region in recent months, however, as an unusually strong El Nino drives prey fish closer to shore. Groups of juvenile great white sharks have followed, and in May over a dozen of the animals were spotted off Sunset Beach, as the Los Angeles Times reported.
— Lydia Shark (@RockStarLydia) November 18, 2015
Despite the presence of young white sharks, interactions with beachgoers have been extremely limited, and few if any injuries have been reported. In July, a portion of Huntington Beach was closed after a great white shark bumped a surfer’s board, toppling him into the water. Though the “bump” met the criteria for aggressive behavior which triggers an automatic beach closure, as KTLA reports, the shark did not attack the surfer, and instead swam away after investigating him.
— NBC Bay Area (@nbcbayarea) November 10, 2015
After authorities were able to determine that the shark sighted on Friday was much smaller than originally reported, they downgraded the alert and reopened the beach. No contact between the white shark and beachgoers was reported, and neither swimmers nor the shark was at any time placed in danger.
At just seven feet in length, a juvenile great white of this size preys upon small fish and marine invertebrates, including stingrays, which can be found abundantly near shore. A juvenile shark is too young to pose a significant danger to surfers or beachgoers, and paddleboarders have repeatedly filmed themselves approaching great whites of this size off the California coast all year. It has been suggested by some researchers that a white shark’s diet can shift when it reaches roughly 10 to 12-feet-long, changing the animal’s primary prey from fish to marine mammals. Attacks on humans remain few and far between, however, and are thought to most often be the result of mistaken identity.
Following the sightings on Friday, authorities posted signs to alert beachgoers of the great white shark’s presence, which will hang until Saturday morning.