Just don't look down.
Researchers have found that sharks — including juvenile great white sharks — like to hang out far closer to swimmers and surfers than you might think.
In a new study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, a team of California researchers studied 700 hours of footage taken during over 1,600 drone flights over 26 beaches in California between 2019 and 2022.
For blissfully unaware beachgoers, the results may be alarming. They found that sharks were close to swimmers a stunning 97 percent of the days surveyed at beaches where sharks are known to aggregate.
The researchers concluded in paper that spending more time around these sharks simply doesn't lead to "an increased bite frequency in southern California," an important takeaway that goes to show just how friendly sharks are most of the time.
The researchers found that juvenile great white sharks, which can grow up to ten feet in length, like to congregate not far from public beaches before taking off on their own.
Yet the researchers recorded only one seemingly unprovoked bite by an unidentified marine mammal — which may or may not have been a shark — when a swimmer was nipped in the spring of 2020.
That more or less tracks. There have only been 130 reported white shark bites in California since 1950, according to the paper, and only "20 unprovoked white shark bites in southern California since 2000."
"An aerial survey study conducted at La Reunion Island, a region known for high frequency of shark bites on people, found that areas of high shark-water user overlap did not result in increased shark bites on water users," the researchers wrote. "In addition, the probability of unprovoked shark bites across California was estimated to be extremely low."
The team is hoping that its insights could convince public safety officials to consider restricting access points instead of "closing entire beaches."
But while the risks are extremely low, there's still a chance somebody could get mistaken for prey by an unsuspecting shark.
And that's something that could be addressed by "focusing on public education and awareness programs to help people understand shark behavior, recognize potential risk factors and adopt safe practices when engaging in water activities," as shark expert and marine biologist Melissa Cristina Márquez told Salon of the findings.
At the end of the day, we're the sharks' guests when it comes to our planet's beaches — and they deserve our utmost respect.
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