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California: drones are helping experts better understand shark behavior

California, US:The great white shark is one of the most feared predators underwater. Now drones from high above are helping experts analyze their behavior when they encounter humans.

In a nutshell: we're not on their menu, according to Shark Lab Director Chris Lowe. Scientists from the Shark Lab at California State University Long Beach are in the middle of a two-year study using drones and other technology such as underwater robots, ultrasonic transmitters and buoys to tag and monitor sharks off southern California beaches. "Despite the fact that shark populations are going up and more people are using the water than ever before, we're not really seeing more people actually being bitten by sharks, In fact, in some years, the rate has gone down," Lowe told Reuters.

From Santa Barbara to San Diego, the Shark Lab team has been flying drones along the coastline and counting the number of sharks and people and looking at other factors, such as weather, wave lengths and the distance sharks and people are from each other and shore. The Shark Lab team also tag the sharks using a spear that fits the animal with a transmitter.
"Well, we use the drones to find the animal. The drone pilot relays the position to us and essentially we just start following the drone around and then when we can get close enough, it's simply a case of using a pole spear like this, which has a modified adapter to take these anchor fittings, so that would fit into there and then you just have to shoot the tag into the dorsal musculature on the on the back of the animal," explained Shark Lab's James Anderson, as he attached a transmitter to spear before taking to the water to search sharks.

Lowe hopes the Shark Lab's research will help lifeguards protect the public by better understanding how sharks behave and whether some species are more aggressive than others. "The goal is to better understand shark biology and behavior and to not just give that information to lifeguards who have to make public safety decisions, but to the public who have to decide where that risk is and when is it most appropriate to exercise caution versus when they don't need to," he says.
The coastal community of Del Mar, north of San Diego, plays host to a busy white shark nursery. Lifeguard Chief Jon Edelbrock says the Shark Lab's work has been invaluable for his team. "We've learned a lot more about behaviors, you know, different patterns of migration here in southern California. And so it's been tremendous for us as far as learning experience that we can then return that back to the public. 

We can answer questions better, we can advise people on what the true (shark) activity is in this area," he said. The great white shark was the star of the 1975 Hollywood blockbuster "Jaws" and multiple sequels. It prefers cool coastal waters and can reach 20 feet (6 meters) in length, weigh 7,000 pounds (3.18 tonnes) and dive to nearly 4,000 feet (1,200 meters) deep.

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