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CSULB’s Dr. Chris Lowe bites into Shark Week

Hundreds packed the Hall of Science see why sharks are surfacing near Los Angeles shores.

Carlos Villicana, Assistant Arts and Life Editor

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Over 500 visitors packed the Hall of Science on Friday to watch a preview screening of “Sharks & the City: LA,” a Discovery Channel special starring Cal State Long Beach’s Dr. Chris Lowe. But before the show, guests filled CSULB’s marine and shark labs.

“I don’t think a lot of people know that we do this here at Cal State Long Beach,” said Alyssa Clemenstine, a biology graduate student giving lab tours.

Curious students and community members observed and learned about a variety of sea life and tools — including lobsters, horn sharks, flying research drones and the sharp dentures of various sharks.

The stunned reactions from the guests as they learned about the displays continued as “Sharks & the City: LA” was broadcast to three full rooms.

“More great white sharks, more people… encounters are inevitable,” the show’s narrator began.

The special features Lowe, the director of the CSULB Shark Lab, as he searches the seas for an explanation to increased shark sightings in the shores of Southern California.

Lowe’s trek, which airs on July 25, leads him to conclude that Southern California could become a hub for more sharks as their population grows and they continue to follow their food, such as the stingrays that populate Los Angeles’ waters.

After the video, ABC7 Eyewitness News correspondent Leanne Suter, Huntington Beach Fire Department Lieutenant Claude Panis and CSULB Shark Lab graduate student Ryan Logan joined Lowe for a Q&A.

Prior to the show’s taping, Lowe had only worked in Southern California. He shared that his biggest takeaway from his trip was how big everything near Mexico’s Guadalupe Island is.

“Going to Guadalupe is like going to Jurassic Park. Everything is huge,” Lowe enthusiastically said. “So it really is like going back in time.”

Attesting to the increased number of shark sightings, Logan compared how the lab jumped from no tags placed on sharks last year to twenty tags placed within in a month and a half.

When asked about beach safety, Panis warned attendees about having a false sense of safety.

“I tell people it’s not a swimming pool, it’s a wilderness area. Anytime you enter a wilderness area, you’re going to encounter wildlife,” Panis said. “Give [wildlife] it’s space, respect nature for what it is.”

Lowe warned about shark repellants, saying that there is no “really good” scientific evidence about their effectiveness.

“They are coming back, which is really good. But I don’t really think there’s a lot that we need to worry about as long as we’re ocean smart,” Lowe said. “Be ocean smart and chances are you’ll be just as safe [as before sharks appeared] without any special device.”

The audience was told that the rarity of shark attacks indicates that the animal wants little to do with us, usually attacking because they mistake swimmers for food or feel like they need to defend their space from us.

“The only ones that can keep you safe are you,” Lowe said in response to shark culling as a solution to shark attacks.

Throughout the night, Lowe referred to the great white sharks by “white sharks.” When questioned on this, Lowe said that he and other scientists get tired of writing out the full name when there is only one type of white shark.

“We’ve gotten rid of the ‘great’ just to make it simpler, and because we don’t want to give them a big head,” he joked.

The panel shared three theories as to why white sharks, particularly the young ones, are appearing closer to shores.

“They’re at the beach for the same reasons we’re at the beach — it’s safe, there’s good food and sometimes it’s warm,” Lowe said.

Because they are not yet old enough to control their body temperature or distinguish predators, young white sharks travel closer to shores where the water is warmer and home to fewer shark eating species like the orca.

Lowe theorized that the white shark, as well as other species whose populations are increasing, could continue to migrate further north from Mexico as waters get warmer.

“I think the more we learn about sharks and the more we can pass that information to people like you, the safer we’ll be,” Lowe said.

Suter ended the Q&A by asking a question that she claimed everyone wanted to know — “how do sharks have sex?”

Met with sudden silence and bewildered laughs, Lowe tried to explain.

“Shark sex is rough,” he said.

Lowe explained that male sharks use their teeth to hold onto the female shark and copulate.

“The process may take up to an hour,” Lowe said to an amused audience.

That’s quite the testament to the shark’s endurance, if the swim from LA to Mexico wasn’t enough proof for you.

Before leaving, Suter asked about funding. Lowe said that the twenty tags they placed on sharks earlier in the month ate up a lot of the technology they had.

“The technology [we use] is amazing, it gives us the chance to do something we’ve never been able to do before, and to peer into sharks lives like never before. Unfortunately it’s very, very expensive,” Lowe said

Lowe told the audience that he relies on the public to continue his research, and they should contact him if they’d like to help fund it.

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