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Commentary: As shark sightings on O.C.'s coast rise, something must be done to better protect humans

Shark warning

Officials placed signs warning of sharks along Corona del Mar State Beach after a reported shark attack on Memorial Day weekend.

(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

I am an ocean swimmer who has lived in Dana Point for about 30 years. I was a junior lifeguard in San Clemente. Each summer I rejoice to see the children return to the surf in the same ocean-safety program up and down the Southern California coast.

Now, however, I view this with some trepidation. I have some real concerns about my safety and that of the youth when swimming in the sea.

The fear is founded on recent beach closures, shark sightings and fatal attacks. This last Memorial Day weekend, a swimmer was bitten by a shark and bled heavily before being rescued by a lifeguard patrol boat in Newport Beach. Corona del Mar State Beach was subsequently closed at the shoreline. Seal Beach was closed at times during the month of October last year and March this year.

Juvenile Great Whites have been observed in the shallows and a full-grown shark was just recently filmed breaching near shore.

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Sadly, we remember David Martin, who was training for a triathlon 150 meters offshore in Solana Beach when witnesses saw him lifted from the water and dragged under. Both legs bitten, he bled to death.

More seals inevitably mean more sharks. This year I have seen things never observed before; large groups of seals swimming offshore, and new rookeries onshore. I understand the cuddle factor surrounding seals and appreciate the raw power of the shark.

Yes, there is a certain nostalgic altruism of allowing nature to return to its former state. However, the well-being of my fellow human beings helps me see this as a dangerous abstraction. We are part of the Southern California coastal habitat.

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Warm, clear water and golden sandy beaches are the nexus for resident recreation and a tourism economy. Worldwide, there are very few places that offer such an opportunity for swimming, surfing and sunbathing. Should shark attacks and beach closures continue, tourists will take their dollars elsewhere and the youth will be deprived of a vital place for play.

Human lives matter too. The California Legislature passed the Marine Life Protection Act in 1999.

Recently, The Department of Fish and Wildlife established marine protection zones. I propose the creation of human protection zones. The beaches from Point Conception south should not be places where people need to risk their lives to go swimming, surfing or wading.

The coastline from Point Conception to the Mexican Border is less than a tenth of the distance between Point Conception and the Canadian border.

Southern California beaches feature the warm water that make swimming and wadding a viable recreational pursuit. Currently, seals and sharks are protected. A portion of the seal population in Southern California could be relocated thereby reestablishing a healthy equilibrium. If there are fewer seals there will be fewer Great White sharks.

Who do we hold accountable the next time a human life becomes fish food? And who will that human life belong to; a stranger, a friend, a big brother or little sister?

--

ROBERT CAPONE lives in Dana Point.

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