By L. Jordan-Smith, Ph.D.
La JollaI’d like to thank Mr. Raffee for allowing me to clarify my previous letter printed on Oct. 13.
My statement that he quoted saying that there is no evidence that the sharks’ movements are related to seal presence was specifically about white sharks in the La Jolla Cove area.
I do not pretend to deny that adult white sharks feed on marine mammals including seals. However, the white sharks that enter this area are typically juveniles which feed on fish, and this is based on papers published in scientific journals. The change in their diet from primarily fish to one including marine mammals is actually accompanied by a transition to a completely different tooth shape from narrow pointy teeth to the more triangular serrated teeth. If adult white sharks were using this area as a feeding ground we would see many more seals and sea lions with major injuries.
As to my credibility, I have published several peer-reviewed scientific papers on sharks and their close relatives, stingrays. I caution Mr. Raffee to heed his own advice, that simply stating something doesn’t make it true, and to extend this line of thought even to the Discovery Channel. To insinuate that a wild animal is a serial killer is utterly irresponsible and disingenuous. The study described in the article Mr. Raffee mentioned simply used similar statistical analyses to those used for criminals to look for patterns in shark feeding locations. It appears the drive for publicity caused their entertainment goals to outweigh their educational goals in sensationalizing the story, unfortunately this is not at all uncommon when it comes to sharks.
There is no question that sharks are extremely talented and efficient predators, equipped with entire sensory systems that we can study but only imagine perceiving the world through. Sharks have been top ocean predators since 200 million years before dinosaurs appeared. The point is that human injury and fatality from shark interactions are extremely rare and that white sharks in particular are an endangered species. There is no need to feed La Jolla’s citizens full of irrational fears about sharks when, as I stated previously, drowning and skin cancer should be of far greater concern for beachgoers.