Q&A on Shark Safety

ByABC News
May 5, 2004, 2:22 PM

M O N T E R E Y, Calif., May 10, 2004 -- With swimmers warned away from the water last week in Southern California due to white shark sightings, there has been heightened concern about the safety of sharing ocean waters with these notorious predators.

While white sharks are found randomly year-round, we still don't know too much about their migration patterns. Over the past few years we've seen more juveniles and sub-adults show up in this general area, but scientists can only speculate as to the reason.

It's likely that these youngsters are still just preying on fish and have not developed the more mature teeth patterns or desire for larger marine mammals yet. Whether or not these animals may pose a threat to humans encountering them accidently in their waters, though, is something that no one can or will say for sure.

But if you look at the statistics, the bottom line is you're taking a much bigger risk by getting into your car each day than by swimming, surfing, diving or snorkeling in the Pacific Ocean.

Below are answers to some common questions about white sharks.

How common are shark attacks on humans?While they don't typically prey upon humans, white sharks do pose an extreme threat if you meet them on their "turf," or, maybe in this case, "surf." Between 1950 and 2004, there were 93 white shark attacks on humans in California. Of those, 10 were fatal.

It has been nearly 10 years since a fatal white shark attack occurred in California. In December 1994, a diver was attacked and killed off San Miguel Island in southern California.

It is important to note that even though human use of the water over the years has greatly increased due to the growing human population and the popularity of surfing, swimming and scuba diving, white shark incidents have not increased in a parallel manner.

What do white sharks typically eat?Juveniles typically feed on fishes, small sharks and rays. Both adults and juveniles are ambush predators. Adults have a wider menu, which includes fishes, seals, sea lions, dolphins, whale blubber (scavenged), seabirds, marine turtles, rays and other sharks.

How large do white sharks get to be?Adult white sharks grow to about 21 feet and dominate their domain as one of the top-level predators of the ocean.