Shark Week arrived early in Manhattan Beach, where sightings of very small great whites in or near the surf zone generated no small measure of hysteria.
Sightings have been made daily since Monday, and on Tuesday evening the popular surf spot at the north end of town, El Porto, was closed until Wednesday morning.
That was because, at about 6:30, a Los Angeles Sheriff's Department helicopter crew spotted two sharks measuring about six feet long swimming very close to a surfer.
Helicopters buzzed overhead again on Wednesday. Lifeguards patrolled in boats and on jetskis. Beachgoers were jittery, but not prevented from entering the ocean, and the media were in a frenzy.
Perhaps that's being over-dramatic but on Wednesday a shark command center of sorts was set up in large part to deal with media inquiries.
Thankfully, on Thursday, the situation had calmed, although a lifeguard spotted another shark thrashing in the surf.
About these sharks. If, in fact, they're white sharks, there's nothing unusual about their presence.
Southern California coastal waters are a nursery ground for the small ones.
None of the sightings this week involved a shark longer than six feet, and that might have been an exaggeration. That means these sharks are babies, apex-predators in the making, but still content with feeding on small rays, smaller sharks and fish.
On Wednesday the Marine Conservation Science Institute, run by white shark expert Michael Domeier, posted this statement on its Facebook page:
"Manhattan Beach California was put on alert following a shark sighting yesterday. Although the species was not confirmed, the shark was later reported to be 4 feet long.
"A 4-foot white shark would be considered a young of the year, which is a shark in its first year. It is not unusual to see juvenile and young of the year sharks in this region as Southern California beaches are a known nursery area for juvenile white sharks."
What might explain the high visibility of sharks this year off Manhattan Beach, however, is an abundance of small rays close to the beach. The water is very warm this summer, and waves have been small. At low tide the calm water near the shore is the warmest, and that's where brown rays often gather. There also have been leopard shark sightings close to shore, and juvenile white sharks eat leopard sharks.
Worth noting is that last summer several larger great whites--but still fish-eating juveniles--were spotted from the city pier.
Eric Martin, co-director of the Roundhouse Marine Studies Lab and Aquarium at the end of the pier, said he and the aquarium staff did not boast of the sightings, to prevent hysteria.
"Last year we had 21 sightings of sharks from 5-8 feet," Martin said. "These little 4- and 5-footers out here now are just trying to find food, because there have been very few sardines and anchovies, or other fish. So they're probably going after the rays."
Media reports have quoted lifeguards as saying the sharks appear to be docile, and sensationalism appears to have been kept to a minimum.
But ABC News found a surfer named Dan Montrose, who said, in reference to white sharks being a protected species off California: "Who's going to protect our kids? There's got to be some kind of a fine line. I mean, I think our children and us should be protected more than a shark."
Perhaps Montrose ought to consider keeping his children on the beach, then, because the ocean belongs to the sharks, which are just trying to survive and do not mean any harm.
Photo shows a juvenile great white shark after being hooked by a fisherman on Manhattan Beach Pier last summer. Credit: Eric Martin