Last summer, dozens of large great white sharks, some measuring as big as 18 feet, were spotted in the Monterey Bay around the 4th of July. This season it appears they’ve returned a few months earlier, with more than a dozen of them spotted near the cement ship in Aptos this week.It’s thought that the sharks are here earlier due to the El Niño conditions which have brought warmer waters to the bay and north coast.

The arrival of the sharks may prove be a repeat of last summer, where as many as 15 great white sharks arrived near Seacliff State Beach in Aptos on June 23, the same day 300 youngsters were scheduled to take part in the NorCal Junior Lifeguard competition. A shark fin was sighted near shore and all the kids were told to get out of the water. Rangers then posted a shark warning sign at the kiosk near the park’s campground.

While paddling his kayak, Giancarlo Thomae, who works as an interpretive specialist for a whale watching operation, sighted and photographed four great white sharks at close range along the shore. He then went up with Specialized Helicopters out of Watsonville where he and the pilot counted 14 great white sharks just offshore, within a quarter mile of the cement ship. In the photos, the silhouettes of the sharks are clear near the sea surface.

Specialized Helicopters has noted that, based on their observations, sizable sharks will likely be visible in these waters on most days between now and November. They also noted that when chopper pilots spot sharks behaving aggressively in the area of surfers or swimmers, they will notify the lifeguards on duty in the area of the activity. That could trigger shark warning signs to be posted on the beaches.

It’s important to note that while the sharks deserve respect (and some distance), people should not be afraid of diving or visiting the Monterey area. Since 1950, there have been about 3 shark attacks a year across the entire California coastline, so the likelihood of a shark attack along the Monterey Bay is very slim.

Divers have not reported seeing any great white sharks underwater in Monterey’s popular diving areas, although reasonable precautions should be taken, such as refraining from spearfishing. Or, as Facebook poster Martin Hevezi said, “Uh oh. Guess I’ll leave my seal costume at home.”