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Beach Grit

Ian Cairns: “I don’t want my kids eaten!”

Chas Smith

by Chas Smith

Southern California has a "mega problem!"

It is almost summertime in southern California and you know what that means? Norm Reeves Honda Superstore Sizzling Sale! But you know what else it means? Old Navy Crazy Capri Days! But do you know what else it means? Sharks!

This genteel region used to be immune to those angry creatures but not anymore. Last summer was the sharkiest on record and this looks set to surpass. What are the authorities doing about it? Not enough, according to Western Australia’s favorite native son Ian Cairns. The very famous Bronzed Aussie and founder of professional surfing has lived in Laguna Beach for many years now and believes the authorities have a “mega problem” on their hands. But let us turn to a New Zealand publication for more!

“I’ve surfed in sharky areas my whole life, I actually love that feeling of going into the wilderness where it’s dangerous. I just don’t want my kids to get eaten,” says the father of four, who has seen sharks while out surfing and stand-up paddleboarding with his children on three occasions recently.

There are signs that concern is growing among residents too. Information sessions are being organised and lifeguards have started to run “shark watch” webpages and utilise offshore beacons that ping when one of a small handful of tagged sharks swims by (although downloading the beacons’ data can take weeks).

But, while local and state governments in WA and NSW swiftly rolled out drumlines, shark nets, drones and helicopter patrols, Californian authorities have shown less enthusiasm.

At a shark information session in November run by California’s Ocean Protection Council, Cairns says not one bureaucrat spoke about the possibility of people dying.

“These guys don’t want to admit they’ve got a mega problem,” he says, adding that it’s not only “bureaucratic inertia”. Even his wife, a former pro surfer, refuses to admit that sharks are becoming an issue, he jokes.

Chris Lowe, director of the Shark Lab at California State University in Long Beach, says he is not convinced the danger is as high as Cairns suggests.

He says the shark population has exploded in southern California due to decades of environmental protections and, possibly, increasing water temperatures. Last year he had so many shark sightings that he ran out of tags (and money) to monitor them.

But, unlike in Australia, sightings are not translating into increased attacks.

Hotspots emerging in southern California are actually nurseries for juvenile sharks; the younger animals are possibly attracted to the safety of the coastline’s shallow, warm waters with abundant sting rays.

The adult sharks, which pose more of a threat to humans, do not seem to hang around, instead leaving for far-off feeding sites and seal rookeries, Lowe says.

Even if human injuries started to increase, he thinks Californians would baulk at anti-shark measures.

“I just can’t see California doing the same as … Australia. California is a progressive state, we’re very ecologically conscious.”

So. Are California’s “progressive” animal friendly policies going to lead to many surfer deaths this summer or are the younger sharks just wanting some warm water fun like everyone else? I wonder how many hits it would take to turn the area blood thirsty with many fisherman killing every shark from here to Catalina?



What’s the over/under?