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Santa Barbara shark sightings making waves in the world of ocean conservation

Posted at 7:59 AM, Oct 30, 2022

A string of shark sightings off the coast of Santa Barbara is being called an environmental success story.

Drone footage shows dozens, if not hundreds of leopard sharks just feet offshore.

“It was really surprising to see that many at one time in one spot like that,” said Kyle Emery, who shared video showing an usually large group of leopard sharks swimming in shallow water just feet offshore from Campus Point at UC Santa Barbara.

“There were definitely a number of people out surfing and swimming while we were taking it and a lot of people were just curious and wanted to get an up-close view of the sharks,” said Emery, who is a researcher at the Santa Barbara Coastal Long Term Ecological Research Program.

Drone video also shows a great white shark swimming a couple of hundred feet off the coast of Carpinteria. Researchers say that the great white is likely 8-10 ft. long.

Both sightings happened in marine protected areas that are off-limits to fishing and harvesting.

“Just in the 10 years or so that a lot of these have existed, there have been significant increases in both the number of species and the sizes of species that are living there,” said Emery.

Researchers say that sharks, stingrays, and other marine life congregate and thrive in protected water.

“There’s usually leopard sharks this time of year in the surf zones, but to see them congregate in that amount was something that I haven’t seen," said Scott Bohn, who lives in Santa Barbara and has surfed up and down the coast.

Bohn has seen sharks in the water but says that the drone footage shows the true scope of how many are out there.

“I’m normally in the water so I can only see a couple around me, so to see the drone footage of a larger area was definitely something that opened my eyes a bit,” he said.

The leopard sharks spotted at UCSB are considered harmless bottom feeders. Great whites, however, are a sight to best admire from afar.

“Humans aren’t supposed to be there. Those sharks and marine life in general, that’s their home so you need to go in surfing with a respect of the ocean and an understanding that there’s predators around—similar to if you go hiking on a trail,” said Bohn.

There are currently five marine protected areas along the South Coast and 14 in the Santa Barbara Channel.