California researchers study how sharks impact local economies

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Swimmers, surfers and businesses in Southern California have adapted to life with juvenile great white sharks. Now, researchers who have studied sharks for years are trying to understand their impact on the local economy.

Chris Lowe, director of the Shark Lab at Cal State Long Beach, told CBS News correspondent Carter Evans that juvenile great white sharks, those under 7-years-old, who live off the Los Angeles County coastline, mostly ignore people – but sometimes, they get curious.

“No different than a neighborhood dog, right? You’re out walking with somebody and the dog comes over and gives you a sniff,” Lowe said.

Evans joined Lowe’s team as they entered shark-infested waters. The researchers used a massive fishing net to to capture and tag some of the sea life the sharks might feed on. Lowe said people aren’t on the menu. But, on the rare occasion a shark bites a person, it makes national news. The Shark Lab wants to understand how shark bites are impacting local economies – both positively and negatively.

Lowe said that several a couple of years ago, the Huntington Beach City Council revealed there was a $7 million loss in hotel reservations as a result of a shark attack in Camp Pendleton — more than 60 miles away from Huntington Beach.

But there is also evidence shark bites can have the opposite effect. A West Virginia University study found an initial increase in hotel bookings three days after an attack, but after that, the bookings drop.

Economist Dede Long is working with the Shark Lab to study the financial impact of the public’s reaction to shark attacks.

“Some people might think, ‘Oh, I take this really seriously, I don’t want to go the beach,’” Long said. “But some people might think, ‘Oh, this is really exciting. I actually want to pursue this opportunity.’”

Santa Barbara surf shop owner Sam Holcombe said the sharks are not hurting his business.

“When I educate the standup paddle board renters about the sharks, very few choose to not go,” Holcombe said.

Tourism professor Katie Dudley, who also works with the Shark Lab, said sharks are low on the list of concerns for beachgoers.

When Evans hit the water again with researchers near where the fishing net was placed, they found a great white shark close to 9-feet-long.

“Oh, absolutely,” Dudley responded when asked if people are going shark watching. “That’s why this team is so great and unique — because we’re coming at it at every different angle, so that hopefully, we can make a truly sustainable model to help have a thriving tourism destination right next to a thriving shark population in our oceans.”

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