A Central California photographer has spent much of the past few weeks documenting the presence of juvenile great white sharks in the shallows off Capitola, in Santa Cruz County.
But lately some of the sharks Eric Mailander has photographed from his boat, and via drone, have been much larger than the average juvenile — and therefore might pose more of a threat to surfers and swimmers.
On Sunday, Mailander posted aerial images on Facebook showing an estimated 15-foot great white shark alongside his 22-foot vessel, just beyond New Brighton State Beach. "This ain't your imagination!" Mailander wrote. "Huge white shark that we spotted today off New Brighton Beach in 12′ of water. This is a 15-footer and the biggest I’ve ever seen in this area. My boat is 22 feet."
Juvenile white sharks, which prey on rays and other bottom fish, typically measure 4 to about 10 feet. When white sharks reach about 12 feet in length, as subadults, they begin to prey on seals and sea lions.
While the larger white sharks sometimes cruise along the coast, they're far more common near offshore islands, where pinniped densities are higher, and where there are fewer people.
Late last week Mailander posted a photo showing a man and boy playing in knee-deep water as a juvenile white shark patrolled the coastline about 30 yards from shore. A second image shows the man and boy watching the shark from water's edge. (Images posted above.)
"I've warned many people in the water," Mailander told GrindTV, adding that warning signs are posted within New Brighton State Beach.
Mailander saw 12 individual white sharks, from 6 to 15 feet in length, within a mile radius on Sunday. He spotted 15 white sharks on Monday. His high daily count in recent weeks was 20 individual white sharks. (A man kayaking off nearby Santa Cruz on Tuesday was knocked off his vessel by what he said was a great white shark. The man, who radioed for a rescue, was not injured.)
The photographer said he has noticed "bite or claw marks" on some of the larger sharks he has spotted, and wondered if they were caused by seals or sea lions trying to ward off an attack. He said there are lots of harbor seals in the area.
Chris Lowe, a white-shark expert who directs the Shark Lab at California State University – Long Beach, has tagged sharks in the 9- and 10-foot range in the area. Those are fish-eating juveniles.
Lowe said it appears as though some reports might be exaggerating the size of some of the sharks being spotted.
Mailander's aerial photo makes it clear, though, that at least one truly large great white shark has roamed the Capitola coast this week.
Of that shark, Lowe said, "I would rather doubt that it would stay" for an extended period of time.
More about great white sharks from GrindTV