A juvenile sharks swims just off the Southern California coast. Courtesy of Patrick Rex and Jack May/Cal State Long Beach

Despite the fact that juvenile white sharks—colloquially referred to as great white sharks—tend to hang out near the shorelines of Southern California cities, university researchers say surfers and other beachgoers are mostly safe.

A team of researchers from Cal State Long Beach and the University of Minnesota published a paper last month in the journal “PLOS One” after studying the location, movement and disposition of the young sharks. The study found that the 5- to 6-foot-long sharks tend to stay close to shore to avoid predators, including adult white sharks and orcas.

The young white sharks “form loose aggregations” in small areas along coastal beaches, where they spend “days to months in these nursery habitats” enjoying warmer water and an abundance of food, according to the study.

The sharks, however, optimize growth by only exerting energy when necessary, researchers noted, which means people enjoying the water are, more or less, safe.

“We found that these juvenile white sharks are getting a big morning breakfast and then just chilling for the rest of the day,” lead author and Cal State researcher James Anderson said in a statement. “They’re hanging out at the beach, cruising up and down the shoreline, paying no attention to pretty much anyone or anything around them.”

A juvenile sharks swims near a pair of paddle boarders in Southern California. Courtesy of Patrick Rex and Jack May/Cal State Long Beach

Active mostly in the evening and morning hours, researchers observed the sharks chasing prey species in deeper, colder water. During the day, the sharks conserved energy by moving just enough to stay buoyant at the water’s surface, the study found.

Researchers used high-density acoustic arrays placed offshore to receive signals from tagged sharks. By having signals received by multiple receivers, scientists were able to track the sharks’ movements as well as water temperature and depth.

Over the years, these congregations of juvenile white sharks have relocated from places like Santa Monica Bay and Will Rogers Beach in Los Angeles County to Torrey Pines and Solana Beach in San Diego County as well as Carpinteria state beach in Santa Barbara County.

Despite the general safety for beachgoers during the day, researchers still warn caution.

“These are wild animals and wild animals are unpredictable,” Anderson said. “But honestly, you have far more concerns driving the 405 freeway on the way to the beach.”

Brandon Richardson is a reporter and photojournalist for the Long Beach Business Journal.