White Shark/Red Triangle
Introduction

White Shark

Learn the surprising truths behind the monster myths on NATURE’s WHITE SHARK/RED TRIANGLE.

Each year, in the late summer, a region known as the Red Triangle bustles with marine mammal activity. Lying between San Francisco and Monterey, the Red Triangle includes beaches where elephant seals go to molt, and offshore sites where great whites feed on unwary prey. When not prowling the Red Triangle, great white sharks search the kelp forest for sea lions, or roam the open ocean. Their migration is predictable. Each year they turn up at the same place at the same time, occasionally crossing paths with humans who still swim and surf in these dangerous waters.

Experts have spent decades studying these legendary killing machines of the seas and the animals that make up their food chain, including elephant seals, killer whales, sea otters, and sea lions. Their research reveals several surprising facts. Great whites are not always solitary hunters, they occasionally hunt and feed together. Once thought a coastal species, great whites do swim in the mid-Pacific, at depths matching those of female seals. Sea otters were previously considered immune to attacks by great whites. In fact, they are often their victims.

NATURE challenges you to join this exploration of the infamous WHITE SHARK/RED TRIANGLE.

To order a copy of WHITE SHARK/RED TRIANGLE, please visit the NATURE Shop.
Online content for WHITE SHARK/RED TRIANGLE was originally posted November 2003.

  • Susan Hanes

    I think this is a boing attical I have a question. does the great white shark allways attack when the spot a human even when your just flotting?

  • Jonatan Åcerclinth

    I´m very afraid of sharks, of any spice, every time. And I´m also very interested in them, so this red triangle sounds very interesting to me. But I have one question. Maybe a bit stupid but, if I landed up with one or more sharks, like the great white, what should I do. Just stay still or swim like a had my butt on fire. Excuse me for the chooise of language. I´m from Sweden and starting in high school after the sommer holiday.

  • chad

    If you are fortunate enough to see a white shark and it’s not an attack situation, do not take your eyes off of it and get out of the water. They rely on the element of stealth most of the time. Just because you haven’t been attacked does not mean that it won’t bite just to investigate what you are. Consider yourself lucky to have witnessed the animal personally and call it a day.

  • Rebecca

    Susan im answering your question ::: Sharks no matter if it is a Great White will not attack unless provoked or threaten so don’t be afraid

  • Elle

    Jonathan, if you ever find yourself in a situation with a shark swimming next to you, not a good idea to panic. If the shark wanted to eat you, you wouldn’t have seen it in the first place because G.W. sharks are ambush predators. If one just swims next to you, its just investigating and its very important not to act like prey by panicking. But do try to get out of the water as soon as possible to keep all your fingers! Oh, and try to wear light clothing in the ocean and not black because sharks are known to confuse swimmers with dark clothing with seals.

  • Mark

    Great Whites and any other sharks are not monsters and should be respected not feared. Remember you are in their terriroty and most likely disrupting their dinner. Great Whites only attack bacause they are 1) curious (just like babies-they bite everything to taste whether it is appealing or not) 2) the smell of blood lured them (sharks are known for locating the scent of one drop of blood in a million drops of water or 3) your surf board looks similar to their favorite meal-the sea lion. The most important rule to remeber and keep at heart is that provoking a shark such as beating the water violently (in known shark infested waters) sounds like a wounded animal and that the best way to protect yourself (shark defense 101) is to punch the shark in the nose as it is the most sensative area on the shark or multiple punches to the gills. Usally this works immediatly.

  • jericho dela cerna

    theres 3 kind of attack by great white shark,1st is they bite you and go just for curiosity sake. if it taste good they will coming back to you. the 2nd one is they will bump you and the third one is the so called sneaky attack. this is unprovoke suprise attack coming from under your feet. the lesson here is never ever ventured to any water u dont know what is in there. even in shallow water and fresh water river a bull shark is known species who can able to swim and live there.sharks even unprovoke they will attack you if theres an opportunity for you to do it thats why dont swim alone in any beaches its better to swim where theres alot of people in that area.

  • Arks

    Susan, it’s not funny to joke around when somebody’s life may be at stake — Great Whites or any other sharks for that matter will bite anything, they are some of the most curious animals ( as they have nothing to fear ). The first bite they will be checking you out ( accounting for most shark attacks ) and are generally only fatal from the loss of blood. When dealing with Great Whites your life is in their hands entirely, believe me, if they want to eat you they will have no problem in doing so. While their are many, many nerves in the nose of these monsters, it is actually the worst spot of it’s head to strike ( think about it, they are basically bumping into anything they check out with it ), instead, try the gills or gouging at the eyes, the feeling of threat is one in the same with confusion for the GW and it will typically opt out on lunch in this scenario. The best way to avoid an attack is to think like a shark ( savage ), think about how, where and when you would expect to find marine edibles, and then use that with your own intuition, remember to never go into the ocean with open wounds and yeah, wearing light colors is always good too.

  • Arks

    edit * Rebecca *

  • GW

    “Sharks no matter if it is a Great White will not attack unless provoked or threaten so don’t be afraid”

    I hate to tell you this but you couldn’t be more wrong. The majority of attacks from sharks like Great Whites, Tigers, and Bulls are unprovoked. Most attack survivors say that there was no warning, or only saw the shark when it was far too late.

    That being said, the chances of being attacked are absurdly, ridiculously small. About 60-100 people are attacked annually worldwide, and only about 5-10 are fatal. So… your chances of being killed by a shark are literally about one in a billion.

    But even with statistics on your side, remember to avoid swimming alone, at dawn or dusk or at night, and to never swim with an open wound.

  • Robert Wolfe

    I and my community surf these northern waters and chose to do so knowingly. The tuna is not the The King of the Sea…seabed7

  • SharkBoi

    I’m 21 and have studied sharks and crocodiles since I was 10. I’ve always been fascinated by these two animals, as well as snakes. I’ve studied shark croc and snake attacks as well. Sharks aren’t as scary as people make them out to be. I do believe they have a bad rep though due to human lack of knowledge, or stupidity, and a certain blockbuster hit that made people fear them even more. I truly believe that even if I was attacked by a shark or any animal that it wouldn’t change anything about the way I view them. Instead I’d look to see the mistakes I made that may have caused the attack, and try to avoid it next time. There are many ways we can prevent ourselves from being attacked, or at least be more cautious.

  • john

    I live in santa cruz ca and have spent 100+ days per year in the water surfing inthe red triangle since about 1997 and have never run up against whitey – but personally know someone who has back in 98 (it was in Davenport). Unprovoked attacks unlikely but still happen – so what!! Stay home if you fear The Warden.

    Tiger sharks in Pacific (anywhere) are MUCH MUCH more aggressive. Schools of hammerhead shark off of south america / near aruba nver have bitten a single human. Why not study that?

  • Aimee

    My daughter loves Sharks and knows all the different species and studies them. Her goal is to become a marine biologist to study sharks for her profession. She wants to educate the public. We are from waters of Florida. Where there are MANY different species of shark including the bull shark, whose personality is extremely aggressive. Why do we fear the Great White?? 1) the movie Jaws, 2) it is HUGE, and 3) the bites usually end in loss of life or appendage. The beach I grew up on is called the Shark Bite Capital of the world, It is a place where a river empties into the ocean and Bulls, Spinners, and Black Tip Sand Sharks breed there. But it is home to many surfers and several world known competitions (New Smyrna Beach, FL). I spent 20+ yrs on and in these waters. I have stepped on and been bumped by Stingrays, stung by Man-Of-War, played with dolphins, and swam with the sharks. Never been bitten by one. Teaching my daughter to surf, I went to get her into a wave and almost threw her into a black tip. That shark swam around us, investigated us and left.

    Last weekend my daughter and I went to Muir Beach. She got in and surfed for the first time in the Pacific water in the middle of the Red Triangle. She swears she saw a fin…..I disagreed, but like the black tip, she calmly swam to shore and got out. The two chaperones from youth group stayed and nothing happened….Sharks are smart BIG fish. Whenever we enter the water, we enter their territory. They don’t go out to hunt humans. Yes, people get bitten. I have seen many, and in New Smyrna Beach, there are at least 3 bites a day during the month of August, and the entire summer at least 1 a week. It is just something we are used to. Sharks should not be feared. Just understood and respected. If we are in their hunting grounds accidents happen, and wow, what a story to tell the grandkids.

  • tgSF

    I have never seen any evidence at all, whatsoever, of a truly “unprovoked” attack. I’ve been studying sharks for over 15 years, and have been SWIMMING WITH THEM for over 4.

    I know that certain organizations, DAN, MBARI, Shark Research Council, etc., whoever tracks these things, may be using that term to specifically differentiate from attack situations where the animal was being harassed/molested or there was freshly dead fish in the surrounding water, but that does not actually mean “unprovoked” in the real, literal sense.

    Most humans do not act naturally in the water: we splash, stomp, paddle at the surface, and even scuba divers bump things, kick their fins together, breathe heavily, etc. – this is all VERY noisy. Every other animal in the water can hear us. To smaller animals, lower on the trophic chain, this can be frightening, and for larger, top predators, this piques curiosity.

    Larger, upper-level predatory animals may wish to investigate these noises, which can be sensed from great distances, since these noises are quite similar to those of struggling &/or dying prey animals. Even an expert swimmer is creating irregular low-frequency pulses at the surface, and any animal that doesn’t already identify this sound or hasn’t ever seen you before will likely investigate.
    THIS DOES NOT MEAN that sharks are out to “get” you, not at all, but it does mean that the responsibility for being aware of your surroundings and the animals thereabout is YOURS. Swimming among sharks can be and is frequently done, safely, but the behavioral responsibility is YOURS ALONE.

    Many shark attacks – typically noted as “unprovoked” in the literature – occur in shallow, dark, murky waters. Most of these shallow, murky water regions in question are known to be places where sharks might hunt (they’ve either been seen, felt, or the conditions match known feeding patterns, etc.). In clumsily entering such waters and making a ruckus (splashing, swimming), how is that in any way NOT provoking nearby predators to investigate? If you can’t see them, they can’t see you, and sharks use their teeth much in the way humans use hands – to analyze and interpret.

    I’ve been studying this for some time, and I remain utterly unconvinced of a single “unprovoked” attack.
    Always remember when you enter the water: it’s THEIR world out there, NOT ours – as much as we desperately wish to believe that humans are the center of the Universe and control everything (hint: we’re totally not, and we totally don’t)………

  • Brian

    TgSF you havent seen the tv special with the expert who while standing in gin clear water explaining that he has nothing to fear while surrounded by sharks because he is not there food and a big bull shark swims up and takes a chunk out of his calf all caught on camera he couldn’t believe it he thought he knew sharks but that one must have been a little hungrier than the other sharks.

  • Drew Dietrhick

    This is one of my favorite NATURE episodes!

  • Jim

    I grew up in the RED TRIANGLE un-beknowenst to me…just follow these basic rules and you SHOULD be ok: do not swim or surf near river mouths, do not swim past waist deep water, do not swim alone, do not emit fear and splash in the water, if you have an open cut-do not enter the water, do not swim or surf at dusk or dawn as sharks tend to feed after hours I think? And lastly stay out of known seal breeding grounds as -big Great Whites frequent these spots in search of seals-their prey. Surfing in these waters put you at risk.
    I quit surfing yrs back-not because of sharks, but we moved away from the coast and it was too far to hit the beach…

    Would I ever go back in the ocean again? NOPE. Not after hearing of all the shark attacks happening these days. I just feel dumb I didn’t know how dangerous it really is outhere! And could you believe I was outhere almost daily for about 5 yrs! Was it luck I was never attacked?
    I think so. A shark had to have seen me in the water? But maybe like I said, they feed after hrs so they prob aren’t hungry in the daytime. Anythings possible though!? Best thing I can tell a guy/gal-block out fear in your mind as animals and sharks feed on fear.get out of the water calmly and collectedly and asap if you get a vibe or think you saw a shawdow….if ever you see a shark(I have), get out of the water as told. The shark I saw was a BLUE SHARK -prob around 6 feet long as I was paddling on my surfboard. The shark was swimming parralel with the wave…I turned around and caught that wave in. Was the shark pursueing me? It could have been, but I will never know because I got out asap.

    Jonathan – yes if you see a shark do not panic, keep calm and swim back to shore asap. And if the shark gets to close punch as hard as you can to the nose, gills or poke it the eyes with fingers and continue on towards land/shore. Do a prayer before you go in the ocean as it may help? I prayed each time I went out in the ocean and I’m still here to tell you my story. That said, I’m going to stay out of the water. Too many monstors outhere! Thanks-but-no-thanks to going outhere in the abyss………

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  • quint

    hey there,

    I love sharks. I have been studying them since I was a kind (non professional). I know that we need to get the people off the impression that sharks are “evil”-thats what it is if you are honest.

    But you know It’s just a bit weid telling people that they are just curious when in fact some victimes get completely consumed by great whites. There are lots of incidents in which victims were attacked multiple times. Nobody can tell me that the shark did not know what it was dealing with after “testing” the merchandise. It knew that it was no seal, or other marine life. It must have known that it was a human.

    So what is it? The smart Predator that is aware of it’s actions, with good sight and curiosity that likes to have a human snack once in a while. Or is it the dumb, half blind and disoriented killing machine that stumbles upon a diver/ surfer, swimmer?

    What shall it be?

    The problem is that both versions are not really helping to correct the publics perception of the animals.

    We love Lions and Tigres and we know that they are maneaters. So maybe it’s the same thing with sharks and just have to accept the fact that we are invading their habitat.

  • Jack Schidt

    I live in Santa Cruz and go to the beaches in the area often. The sunsets, especially after a storm are just about as good as it gets. Since 1960’s, I have been facinated by the dangerous breeds of sharks, mostly Tigers, Bulls, Oceanic Whitetips, Makos, and White Sharks. As a kid, I spent a lot of time reading everything I could find, which used to be very limited. Back then, unless you spent time on the ocean, a shark was a shark, most people thought they were all the same. These days, its so cool to not only have so many people studying and actually tracking them, but there are hours and hours of video.

    Other than the babies that have been on display at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, I have yet to see a White Shark. Much like all the people in the midwest that have never seen a Tornado. The only predation I’ve seen around here is Falcons taking out Seaguls. Never the less, here is what I have observed. There are lots of Seals, Sea Lions, and Sea Otters in the “area” of the Red Triangle. But they are not evenly distibuted. You can see these prey animals regularly in a few places, yet in other places not far away, I have never seen them. There are places where you see a lot surfers; and then there are places with good surf, but no surfers. You can see all kinds of life in the ocean in Monterey Bay, but just north of Santa Cruz, the coast can seem devoid of life until you get to Ano Nuevo (an Elephant Seal refuge). Looking at these areas on a map, its all right next to each other. But clearly, there are localized areas that are much more dangerous, more “sharky” than others. For example, a particular cove may have a beach that is not nearly as dangerous as the rocky points on either side of it.

    From all the actual tracking data, many White Sharks from the Red Triangle area migrate to Hawaii, but some stay here year round:

    http://www.fws.gov/sfbayrefuges/Farallon/whitesharkwengetal.pdf

    So, not only are there specific areas that may have year round sharks, but add to it a seasonal migration, and the influence of El Nino/La Nina moving the food chain around, the likelyhood of crossing paths with White Shark can go way up or down. Fishing from a yellow Sea Kayak off Bean Hollow in October might end up as an unforgetable experience (google that).

    White Sharks are built for the business of hunting fast agile predators like Sea Lions that will fight and bite too. So they have learned to sneak up close, and then rush in fast with a murderous “Gotcha” bite. They have to find their own food, and like all wild animals, that is what is on their mind from moment to moment. They dont read books, or watch scientific videos, nor do they have any idea of the concept of statistics. People love to quote statistics; like you stand a much greater chance of getting struck by lightning or a car accident. But does that statisitc include all the retired people living Kansas that will never see the ocean?

    The next time someone says that White Sharks dont like to eat humans because we are too lean and boney; ask yourself, how does an individual shark know that? Did a marine biologist tell them that? Did they read about it in fish school? Or did they figure that out from experience? The fact is, if you put yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time, you will become part of the food chain. Sure, a White Shark might prefer a nice fat Elephant Seal, but if its belly is empty and you are in its sights, no “save the shark” eco-propaganda will save you.

    Nor will panic. Not only can they sense splashing with their lateral line, they can feel your heart beating; and smell/taste the urine you just released in the water. If they come for you in a full on sneak attack, it wont matter what you do. But if they are letting you see them, they might just be checking you out, and panic may provoke them, when they might otherwise have left you untouched. Once attacked, I would fight for my life, trying to gouge an eye, punch the snout, or tear at a gill. But until then I would stay as calm as I could, and let them know that I am watching them.

    These creatures, like all of God’s creation are awesome and wonderful. They are not evil. They are not monsters. There is no point in fishing/hunting for them and they should be protected. When their belly is full, a White Shark may exibit social or even curious behavior. That might be the best time to quote statistics at them.

  • Ethan

    This doesn’t sound like these people are for sharks it sounds like their against

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