It’s been a back and forth game of open and shut for San Clemente beaches, with the waters re-opened Monday morning, May 22, then closed again after a fisherman hooked a 12-foot shark off the pier.
The ocean off Orange County’s southernmost beach was closed Sunday after about 24 great white sharks were spotted near San Clemente’s coastline and others were spotted off the pier. With at least one shark in the estimated 10-foot range, lifeguards cleared the water about 4 p.m. and decided to reassess early Monday.
Surfers and swimmers had a short time to enjoy the ocean in the early-morning hours Monday, after reports “of some really large sharks,” said Marine Safety Chief Bill Humphreys.
There were two spotted by multiple sources – one 12-footer and a 10-footer – by the end and middle of the pier about 8:15 a.m. Monday.
Sharks under 8-foot are considered to be in the juvenile range and mostly go after sting rays and small fish. But upward of that size and they start changing their diet to eat bigger marine mammals. Size is used to determine how lifeguards respond to a sighting, and whether to order strict closures rather than an advisory with “enter at your own risk” signs.
It takes heavy fishing gear to hook a large shark and “it’s something that is discouraged,” said Humphreys.
“I haven’t confirmed if they were fishing for sharks, but they did get it close to the pier. That leads me to believe they were fishing for sharks. They couldn’t do that with normal fishing gear,” he said. The shark ultimately was released.
The closure is expected to last four hours and will be modified if a new sighting occurs.
On Sunday, the closures started at about 10:30 a.m. after a sighting of an eight to nine-foot shark at the end of the San Clemente Pier. Then at 1 p.m., the department received another sighting report of a six to seven-foot shark, also off the pier. Since the second sighting was of a smaller shark, marine safety officers downgraded the closure to a warning and reopened the water for beachgoers to swim at their own risk.
But with the sheriff’s helicopter spotting about 25 sharks later in the afternoon from Cotton’s Point to Capistrano Beach – a dozen of them grouped together near North Beach – officers reestablished the closure.
Southern Orange County has been a hotbed for shark activity in recent weeks. On April 29, a woman was bit by a shark at Church surf spot at San Onofre State Beach. Days later, Orange County Sheriff’s spotted about 15 sharks while searching the area by helicopters. Drone footage of sharks lingering in the area has made national news and the reports have surfers in the area on edge.
Experts have a number of theories on why the sharks are staying close to shore in larger numbers – including protections the past few decades for great whites and their major food source, sea lions, as well as an abundance of sting rays. El Nino-driven, warmer-than-normal water temperatures and rising sea levels may also be coming into play.
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