Catching up with Shark Expert Chris Lowe
Sharks are a way of life for CSULB Shark Lab Director Chris Lowe. The marine biology professor at Cal State Long Beach, who is always lending his shark expertise for outlets like National Geographic, BBC, Discovery Channel, and the local news, took some time to answer a few questions for Long Beach 908 about how he became a “shark guy” in the first place and to update us on his latest projects.
Recently, Lowe partnered with local assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell on a bill called the White Shark Population Monitoring and Beach Safety Program, which provides funding for groundbreaking state-of-the-art technology used to study sharks. With the increasing presence of sharks at popular Southern California beaches, the new technology funded from this program is also helping lifeguards detect sharks more easily. Lowe explains in the following interview.
First of all, what is your earliest memory of encountering a shark? How did this change the course of your life? By the way, I was reading that you grew up in Martha's Vineyard—what was that like? Not a bad place to grow up!
CL: Growing up on Martha’s Vineyard was awesome. I grew up fishing, swimming and diving. I remember catching my first shark (a dogfish) and remember how different it was from all the other fish I caught. Not being a good student, learning about sharks actually fostered my interest in science and drove me to work harder in school. It was also fun to be there while they were making the movie “Jaws.” A lot of my friends and family were in that movie.
That is so cool! And currently, you are helping shoot a documentary for NBC. Can you give me any details about the shoot and what it is about?
CL: It’s a short documentary about the [CSULB] Shark Lab and our work on juvenile white sharks, the technology we use to study them, and how this work may change people’s minds about sharks.
Speaking of technology, you have been using a lot of new technology to monitor baby white sharks, namely from the VEMCO fish tracking equipment. Could you talk about what kind of new technology you are using and how it's helping you out in the field? Is this technology from the White Shark Population Monitoring and Beach Safety Control Program?
CL: [Currently,] we use these autonomous underwater acoustic receivers to listen for tagged sharks. These receivers require divers to put them on the seafloor and retrieve them periodically to download them and see what sharks came by a particular beach. While this technology helps us answer questions we couldn’t answer before, it isn’t very responsive. The prototype Vemco radio-acoustic receiver will store detection data immediately to the cloud and send real-time detection alerts to us and lifeguards. This new technology helps reduce costs and wastes less time [in studying sharks], all while helping provide lifeguards with immediate information to help figure out why sharks use certain beaches.
Discovery’s 30th Anniversary of Shark Week airs July 22 through July 29. Last year, Chris Lowe was a special guest on the television special “Sharks and the City: LA” as part of Shark Week. This year’s guests on Shark Week include Shaquille O'Neal, Ronda Rousey, Aaron Rodgers and more.