But for Manhattan Beach in Los Angeles County, it's the sharks that are at risk of being harrassed by stand-up paddlers trying to videotape them, and by anglers attempting to hook the protected predators.
The state Department of Fish and Wildlife, citing a trend that involves paddlers with GoPro cameras intentionally trying to find white sharks, is warning people to leave them alone or face the possibility of being cited. The same goes for pier anglers.
"White sharks are a candidate species under the California Endangered Species Act and therefore fully protected," Traci Larinto and Michelle Horeczko, part of the DFW's White Shark Status Review Team, said in a statement issued Thursday afternoon. "They cannot be taken or pursued. The public should take steps to avoid white sharks while fishing or being out on the water."
Though white shark sightings are up this year throughout Southern California, the epicenter is Manhattan Beach, particularly a mile-long stretch from the pier north to a surf spot called El Porto.
Juvenile white sharks–those measuring to about 10 feet–are seasonal residents of Southland coastal waters, and perhaps because of a mixture of abundant prey and warm water, many of them congregate off Manhattan Beach.
(Juvenile white sharks feed primarily on small fish, including sharks and rays. Most sightings occur in summer and early fall. The sharks are believed to migrate into Mexican waters during the winter.)
The increase in sightings could be due to an increase in the number of juvenile white sharks. But a definite factor is a sharp increase in the number of people who stand-up paddle, many while caring GoPro cameras in the hope of capturing footage to share via social media.
"Right now, every surfer/thrill seeker with a GoPro is going out to Manhattan Beach and trying to film them, ride them, and catch them on hook and line," said Christopher Lowe, a Cal State Long Beach professor and white shark expert. "Most people do not understand CESA regulations and that even incidental catch [or] being caught swimming after a shark with a GoPro camera can be considered take or harassment and is a citable, even jailable offense."
Paddleboard sightings began to increase in September. In October, a YouTube video of a close encounter, shared by Mike Durand, went semi-viral. He used a helmet-cam to record a shark swimming beneath his board as he paddled off El Porto. Video is posted here:
Also catching the eye of the DFW was a Nov. 8 post on this website, showing Eric Martin swimming with a 9-foot white shark. Martin, co-director of the Roundhouse Marine Studies Lab and Aquarium at the end of the pier, said he had always wanted to swim with a great white.
Not long after he swam out with a mask and long pole for protection, one of two sharks that were spotted from the pier cruised within feet of him.
Larinto, of the DFW, says this sends a message that this is acceptable and safe behavior.
Martin, who has spotted dozens of white sharks from the pier over the years, said he swam with the sharks, in part, to prove that the juvenile sharks do not present a serious danger to swimmers and surfers.
Fishermen, however, are no friends of the sharks. Martin has watched anglers intentionally try to hook them. Last year, he almost got into a fight with a man who refused to let Martin cut his line, after he had hooked a white shark. The man eventually allowed Martin to free the shark.
Earlier this week KTLA posted footage captured by paddleboarder Nathan Anderson off El Porto. Anderson stated that three white sharks were picked up by the camera, all within 100 yards of one another. The video was uploaded to YouTube on Monday and is posted here:
As for fishing for sharks from the pier, it's not illegal. But catching white sharks is illegal and hooking them for catch-and-release seems to fall into somewhat of a legal gray area.
But these are a protected species that may or may not be mounting a comeback after years of overfishing. It's best to leave them alone.
Said Lowe: "One rumor is that a couple of fishermen have caught and killed some sharks off El Porto and supposedly found squid in the stomachs. I just don't think the public understands the ramifications of the law here."
–Top image shows Eric Martin intentionally swimming with a juvenile great white shark off Manhattan Beach Pier. Credit: Dani Baker