Twenty-First Century Beach Safety: You Can Now Track Great White Sharks On Both Coasts

The city of Newport Beach, California, announced this week that it was putting into place a program which will allow beach-goers to track the movements of great white sharks off the local coastline, copying a similar initiative already in place on the east coast that utilizes technology to give swimmers an edge when it comes to beach safety.

On Friday, Newport Beach debuted a new website which will allow the public to access pertinent data regarding shark sightings in the area. As Grind TV notes, the website is a first in Southern California, and displays information collected by a network of three acoustic receivers placed off the coast. When a tagged white shark approaches these receivers, its presence is noted as its transponder “pings” the network, allowing scientists and officials to track the animals’ movements over time.

The website, while unique for the region, is hardly the first of its kind. Ocearch, a non-profit group dedicated to tracking sharks globally, has operated a website for several years that allows the public to do just that. Much like Ocearch, Newport Beach’s new site allows the public to view background information on any sharks that are detected, giving users a sense of where the sharks have come from on their way to the region.

On the east coast, similar tracking measures have been employed off Cape Cod, though they are further along in their evolution thanks to the efforts of the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy. The group is currently in the midst of their third year undertaking a planned half-decade population survey, studying and documenting the white sharks which gather each summer off the cape. This year, the non-profit partnered with local municipalities and business sponsors to launch a smartphone app, Sharktivity, which allows residents and visitors to the cape to track any white shark detected by receivers or spotted by the research team.

Sharktivity also allows beach-goers to report sightings of white sharks, and upload photos of their own encounters. Each report is vetted by several experts before being released as an alert, and the app is able to document the location of the phone submitting data, in an effort to weed out hoaxes.

The app has already logged one major success, as the Inquisitr recently reported. This past week, a family enjoying a relatively remote stretch of beach was alerted to the nearby presence of a 14-foot-long white shark by Sharktivity, allowing them to remain out of the water and avoid any possible negative interaction. With the conservancy having successfully documented over 140 white sharks last season, that encounter is likely only the first of many in which Sharktivity will make a difference.

The practice of tagging and tracking white sharks is not without its dark side, however. Knowledge of where the predators are is only a piece of data, which then has to be utilized responsibly by both beach-goers and officials, and in some parts of the world that has not always proven true. Several years ago, for instance, officials in Warnbro Beach, Western Australia (where a similar website, Shark Smart, has been operational for years) invoked a controversial rule that allows them to target a white shark which they believe presents an imminent danger to public safety. The shark in question did not approach or attack any human, and officials were only aware of its presence because of its tag, as Perth Now noted at the time. The animal was eventually able to escape and exit the region, but not before it was hunted for several days.

Apps like Sharktivity and websites like those used by Newport Beach and Cape Cod represent an emerging front in the field of beach safety, which was all but unthinkable just a decade ago. When compared to traditional measures used to shield beaches from sharks, like baited drumlines, floating nets, and active fishing culls, these websites and apps are proving that in the twenty first century, the slaughter of great white sharks is hardly necessary to keep beaches safe.

[Photo by Travelbag LTD via Flickr | Cropped and Resized | CC BY 2.0]