Great White Sharks Spotted Off California’s Half Moon Bay, Sparking Warning

By Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek has a broad background in journalism, deposit insurance, marketing and communications, and adult education. The best writing advice he's ever heard is from Roy Peter Clark: 'Hit your target' and 'leave the best for last.'
July 12, 2019 Updated: July 12, 2019

Authorities in San Mateo County are sounding the alarm after multiple pilots in the area reported seeing great white sharks in the water.

The San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office urged caution on Thursday, July 11, saying that the sharks were spotted between the Ritz Carlton and Pillar Point in Half Moon Bay.

“If visiting the area please use caution,” the sheriff’s office said on Twitter Thursday afternoon.

Stephanie Roberts, a Half Moon Bay resident who lives a mile away from the beach, was cited by ABC7 News as saying that it is rare to see sharks in the area.

“It does make you nervous, because I do swim in the ocean every now and then, but it’s nature,” she told the news outlet. “That’s why we love living here.”

Local surfer Sam Huo told KPIX that she would think twice before hitting the waves.

“Uh, yeah … that’s a game changer for me,” she told the outlet.

Marine biologist Giancarlo Thomae told KPIX that shark sightings are a normal occurrence and people shouldn’t be anxious.

“I would not worry about seeing these sharks,” Thomae told the news outlet. “In fact, they are not in feeding mode. What they are doing is they are finding the warmest water that they can just to warm up.”

800-Pound Great White Shark ‘Pings’ Off Cape Cod

The news comes after researchers tracking a 10-foot, 800-pound shark off the eastern coast of the United States announced the massive creature has made its presence known just 15 miles off the coast of Cape Cod by way of a “ping.”

The shark—a great white dubbed Miss May—pinged in at 4:58 a.m. on July 9, according to an update on the OCEARCH website, an ocean research organization that tracks sharks.

A ping happens when a tagged shark’s dorsal fin breaks the surface of the water and transmits a signal, which is recorded for tracking purposes.

graphic showing location of ping
A 10-foot 2-inch great white shark “pinged” just 15 miles off the coast of Cape Cod on July 9, 2019. (OCEARCH)

The great white has been swimming north for over a month. Earlier on June 28, OCEARCH researchers posted an update on Twitter featuring a map of the great white’s recent movements in eastern coastal waters.

“Today @MissMay_Shark is pinging close to shore a little north of Kitty Hawk North Carolina. She has been making steady progress north since the beginning of the month.”

That news was met with a hint of trepidation by some commenters, with one saying, “How far off shore? We are in corolla !”

But most people commenting on the OCEARCH post struck a welcoming note.

“Coming up to NJ for the nice hot summer!” wrote one.

“Welcome to North Carolina!!💙 We are happy to have you!!😙 Have some Cheerwine or Sweet Tea while you are visiting:)” wrote another.

The shark’s name—Miss May—was inspired by the town of Mayport, Florida, where OCEARCH is planning a research facility.

“Our first white shark of the expedition,” said Expedition Leader Chris Fischer, in a Feb. 24 video posted on Miss May’s own Twitter profile. “A beautiful sub-adult female, and we want to name this shark Miss May, for all the people of Mayport.”

Miss May was tagged in February, with a post on Twitter announcing that the great white was “so excited” to get a “sweet underwater iPhone” so that the shark “can take you all on an adventure through the Atlantic with me.”

In an interview with Reader’s Digest, Fischer stressed the importance of sharks to the world’s oceans. “To put it simply, sharks are balance-keepers: if we lose our sharks, we lose our oceans.”

white shark
Researchers give Miss May a medical check-up before releasing the 800-pound great white shark back into the ocean. (OCEARCH)

Drone Catches Sharks Making ‘Aggressive Moves’

CBS News reported on July 9 that drone footage of the waters of Cape Cod Bay showed two sharks acting aggressively toward each other.

“They’re always biting each other, we can tell from the patterns of the bites that they’re aggressive toward each other,” said Dr. Greg Skomal, a Massachusetts shark researcher. “But we’ve never seen it before.”

According to the report, shark researchers spent several days looking for sharks in the waters off Cape Cod and found a whopping 20 of them.

“Inside the bay, we’re seeing these sharks, you know, a mile, two miles, three miles from land,” Dr. Skomal told CBS.

Researchers believe the massive number of seals in the area may be attracting the sharks.

“You just have to be concerned, and you just have to be aware and just be careful,” a beach-goer said, via CBS.

A Danger or Endangered?

Sharks in their interactions with humans have acquired a fearsome reputation that, according to National Geographic, is not justified.

“The United States averages just 16 shark attacks each year and slightly less than one shark-attack fatality every two years,” writes National Geographic’s Brian Handwerk. “Meanwhile, in the coastal U.S. states alone, lightning strikes and kills more than 41 people each year.”

Data from the Florida Museum of Natural History’s International Shark Attack File (ISAF), a database of all known shark attacks, shows that humans pose a greater threat to sharks than vice versa.

“On average, there are only six fatalities attributable to unprovoked attacks by sharks worldwide, each year. By contrast, fisheries kill about 100 million sharks and rays annually.”

A comparison of dog attack fatalities (364) versus shark attack fatalities (11) in the United States for the years 2001-2010 shows that canines pose a considerably higher risk to humans than the much-maligned sharks.

Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek has a broad background in journalism, deposit insurance, marketing and communications, and adult education. The best writing advice he's ever heard is from Roy Peter Clark: 'Hit your target' and 'leave the best for last.'