Julie Maxey-Allison | 10th Street
Guess what! The two aquatic species that you would rather not encounter while swimming in our ocean, stingrays and sharks, are related, and, in fact, are cousins. Their classification in common is Chondrichthyes—meaning their skeletons are not bone but cartilage. Both are at home on our shores.
The spotting of juvenile white sharks last June and August by city staff, video cameras, and surfers caused quite a stir. Chief Lifeguard Jon Edelbrock reports “They were between 5-7 feet with no aggressive behavior…swimming in their habitat with no interest in humans.” The risk assessment: the Florida Museum ranked San Diego County the fourth in the nation for the most shark attacks, 19 since 1926, most to surfing and board sports participants, rather than to swimmers or waders. In perspective: San Diego County is 70 miles of coast from Tijuana to Orange County, and the museum states: “Bees, wasps and snakes are responsible for far more fatalities each year” than sharks, and “In the United States deaths occur up to 30 more times from lighting strikes per year than from shark attacks per year.” Just in case, the museum offers two tips: avoid glittery or shiny jewelry or swimsuits that might make you look like a fish, and in the unlikely event you do come face to face with a great white, keep eye contact. A shark’s style is to ambush its prey, not confront.
Following guidelines formulated by the California State University Long Beach Shark Lab and California Lifeguard Chief’s Association, our lifeguards are in touch with them, determining “how best to react to shark sightings and activity,” says Jon. They posted signs alerting beach goers to the sightings, monitored waters beyond the activity zone for any shark activity, increased boat patrols, deployed a drone for an overhead view, and communicated with adjacent lifeguard jurisdictions.
While those juvenile white sharks got the most attention, it is those stingray cousins that were the trouble makers, stinging 3-8 people a day. Our Round Stingrays, daytime foragers, are especially active in warm waters, just when the beach is most crowded. Using their pectoral disc and mouths, rays dig into the sand for crabs and such. And there, underfoot in the sand, they hide. One small step onto or near a ray may trigger a defensive strike from the ray’s tail, injecting a painful toxin. So: enter the ocean doing the stingray shuffle that gives a ray a chance to scoot off. While some people are able to walk off without treatment after a sting, many opt for aid from the lifeguards. “First and foremost, bleeding control is paramount,” says Jon. “The affected area is soaked in 110 degree hot water for at least 30-45 minutes to help break down the toxin. Other more acute injuries include the need for stitches or pain relief medications via Paramedics and/or hospital treatment.”
The good news: hungry sharks feed on those pesky stingrays.