by Betty Yu

CAPITOLA (KPIX 5) — While the sight of a great white shark swimming in the waters off Northern California’s beaches terrifies most people, it merely piques Sean Van Sommeran’s curiosity.

Van Sommeran has spent years studying great whites in their native habitat as the executive director and founder of the Pelagic Shark Research Foundation.

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But, this year, Van Sommeran has noticed something new. A large number of young great whites.

“The area’s been famous for very large sharks for a very long time,” he told KPIX 5. “What’s unusual (this year) is the presence and gathering of very young sharks which are typically born in Baja and Southern California.”

Van Sommeran says the juvenile shark population has been growing since 2015.

“I think it’s a combination of the current influences, as well as the gathering of food sources,” he said.

Van Sommeran took KPIX 5 along on a recent trip near Capitola and Aptos to spot and tag the young great white sharks. It didn’t take long to see a young shark.

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“We’ve been on this shark survey for about two hours and this is the 3rd shark that we’re seeing,” he said. “We’re pretty close to shore, less than a thousand feet and … this shark is less than a year old.”

Van Sommeran said researching the young great white sharks is important.

“There’s not a lot known about the juveniles in particular,” he said. “Great white sharks have never been documented mating or pupping.”

The frequent Great white shark sightings off Santa Cruz County beaches have been a lure bringing tourists to the area. Charters often go out and troll the waters for a glimpse of a shark.

“We saw a couple pretty big ones like maybe eight feet or so and pretty exciting,” tourist Bobby Parker. “It’s a little terrifying when it just swims up to your boat, it’s like oh it’s the size of the boat almost.”

Van Sommeran says he’s concerned about the increased charter business.

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“It’s a big wild animal, it’s a predator it’s a protective species so people shouldn’t be crowding them or teasing them or fishing for them or anything like that,” he said.