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CA Bill Could Fund Research To Track Sharks In Real Time With Drones, Robots

NEWPORT BEACH (CBSLA) — A recently passed state bill could provide millions to help study and track sharks off the California coast and give lifeguards and beach-goers valuable information.

Assembly Bill 2191 passed the California Legislature Thursday and would provide $3.75 million to California State University, Long Beach's Shark Lab to record the predators' moving patterns, The Orange County Register reported.

"The more we learn about sharks, the safer people can be," Chris Lowe, director of the lab, told CBS2 News Friday. "We need to know about where they're going and where they're spending more time."

Lowe said the funding is needed so the lab, which uses high-tech instruments in their research, can place acoustic tags on a lot more Great Whites, the animals Lowe studies. They are currently 120 underwater listening stations from San Diego to San Luis Obispo to track the sharks.

"When the shark swims within 300 yards of the receiver, it logs the time, the date and the ID number," explained Lowe.

The difficulty with that method, Lowe said, is that a person has to actually go out into the ocean and retrieve the data from the receivers, which can take weeks to be made available.

The new funding would enable lifeguards to find out a shark's location in real time.

"When it detects a shark, it sends the information to the cloud, and then the lifeguards get an email alert saying, 'A shark was just detected at this location,'" said Lowe.

As more sharks are tagged, it will become an early warning system.

The new funding would also allow for drone surveillance, for persons in helicopters to record sightings, and for a new app.

Robots to map food sources and water temperatures are also in the works.

Despite the promise of the data, some beach-goers said they will still take their chances.

"I think they could be anywhere, so whether there's a setting in a certain beach or not, I think anywhere you go, there's a possibility," said swimmer Mercedes Bull. "So, even if you return to the same beach where there's a sighting, there's still a possibility.[...] I would go in."

California Gov. Jerry Brown still needs to sign the bill.

Democratic Assemblyman Patrick O'Donnell of Long Beach introduced AB 2191.

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