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Climate and Environment

SoCal's Young Great White Sharks Are Migrating North Because... Climate Change

Scientists Kevin Weng, John O'Sullivan, and Chris Lowe tag a young-of-the-year white shark off Southern California as part of Project White Shark. (Monterey Bay Aquarium, 2010)
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Young white sharks usually hang out in the waters off Southern California until they grow up, but they're now turning up in greater numbers farther north.

That's according to new study from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Cal State Long Beach, and Duke University.

Researchers found that since 2014, younger sharks have started popping up close to shore in Monterey Bay, and even as far north as Santa Cruz County.

It's normal for adult white sharks to migrate north as they mature, but younger sharks prefer to stay farther south, where it's warmer. For context, "juvenile" sharks are less than 2.5 meters in total body length.

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But recent marine heatwaves have pushed up ocean temperatures off the usually chilly Central Coast, and that's leading to speculation that human-driven climate change could be altering their usual habitat range.

Chris Lowe is director of the Shark Lab at Cal State Long Beach, and one of the authors of the study.

He says that while sharks may start showing up in places where they haven't been seen before, it won't necessarily mean more run-ins with humans:

"We've been studying these juveniles in Southern California for a good 10 years now, and we know that they're in and around people all the time. When you look at the amount of people that use the ocean for recreation, if you compare Southern California with Central California, it's no competition."

Lowe and his colleagues say the shift could actually affect commercial fisherman more than beach-goers, since scientists believe that young white sharks feed on fish in the early stages of their lives.

Note: Scientists don't use the popular name "great white sharks" because there isn't a "lesser white shark" species out there (also it makes the animals sound scarier). But white sharks and great white sharks are one and the same! That's your shark fact of the day.