The juvenile white sharks that hang around California during warmer months appear to be headed for Mexico.
That's according to Dr. Christopher Lowe, director of Cal State Long Beach's shark lab, which has been tagging and tracking young white sharks for the last 11 years.
If they are swimming south, that means the sharks will be returning to their usual migration pattern, Lowe said. Many sharks the school had been following in 2015 stuck around California through the winter, when El Niño kept waters warm. Last year, the lab got to tag only one new shark, he said.
But Lowe said this year the school tagged 30, a "record year" for tracking the creatures.
"I'm kind of like a kid waiting for Christmas Day," Lowe said. "Waiting to finally get the big reveal on whether the sharks have resumed their normal migratory pattern."
Unlike the adult members of their species, young white sharks have consistently gone south during the winter. Lowe thinks this could be because young sharks, much like human infants, aren't as able to trap heat in their bodies.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium had exhibited a white shark but released the predatory fish in February after it "grew like gangbusters" and started eating its tank mates, Lowe said. The shark made a "beeline" for Mexican waters, he said.
This year the lab will also be tracking older juveniles, typically between 6 and 9 feet long, Lowe said. The hope is to figure out whether the bigger sharks, which might be able to hold in more heat, still migrate south. He said that would raise still more questions: Are they following the migratory habits of their prey? Or is it just a habit?
Lowe hopes the study will help scientists answer those questions and also assist the public in understanding more about the sharks off their beaches.