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Will the threat of sharks hurt California businesses?

CBS News logo CBS News 6/15/2017
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SAN CLEMENTE, Calif. -- An increase in shark sightings along the California coast seems to be scaring people away from the shore. There have now been 127 confirmed sightings since May. Many of them happened along a 40-mile stretch of beaches in Orange County.

This first week of summer usually means parents here drop their kids at surf camps and junior lifeguard programs. But with so many great whites spotted swimming offshore, some as big as 12 feet long, the number of beachgoers is down even when the surf's up, reports CBS News correspondent Jamie Yuccas. 

Local businesses are feeling what some are calling "the shark effect." For surf camp owner Jon Pierce, this year is the lowest attendance in his 16 years.

"A normal year, we'd have like 20-plus kids in a class and I'd run two classes a day… and we'd be full all summer with wait lists," Pierce said. But now his business is down by more than 50 percent. Some surf camps are canceling classes entirely. From board rentals to junior lifeguard programs, fewer are willing to get in the water. "What would typically happen is mom would say, 'I'm so sorry, but I talked to my husband and it's just that one chance...' They're just nervous," Pierce said. Candice Lazar is one of those moms. Since May, her family has witnessed shark sighting and beach closings. That's why, at the last minute, she decided daughter Sloane would sit out camp. "You have to live your life. So it's hard to kind of figure out how to react. Because you don't want to overreact," Lazar said.She knows there's a chance, however, and said she'd "never" forgive herself if something happened. 

"That's why I took the step when I did… there was just so many reports, one right after the other," Lazar said. "It was just getting out of hand. It was crazy." Within the last year, two shark attacks took place within a 25-mile stretch of Southern California beaches. On April 29, a 36-year-old woman lost part of her right leg. She remains hospitalized.

Lifeguards now begin each morning scanning the water for sharks. San Clemente lifeguard chief Bill Humphreys said the predators impact crowds.

"The bigger picture is, there's far more sharks than there's ever been in this area," Humphreys said. "It's an anomaly right now."  Ava McGovern, 11, had to convince her mother to let her train as a junior lifeguard in a group. But even she doesn't want to hang out in the ocean alone.

"I was a little scared of the sharks," McGovern said. 

"Do you usually surf?" Yuccas asked.

"I did surf, but now, I'm not quite sure if I'm am going to surf, like, for a long time now 'cause the sharks," McGovern said. 

The shark effect has sunk one surfing contest for kids that was supposed to take place at a nearby beach later this month. While there are no concrete financial numbers yet because summer just started, the area is full of surf shops, restaurants and ice cream parlors who report business is down.

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