Somewhere this morning on the California coast, a great white shark is eyeing a swimmer or a surfer as a potential meal. Noted shark expert Patric Douglas says that this scenario plays out every single day in Southern California.
“There is a great white off Newport or Huntington Beach right now that has made several passes on a group of surfers and passed on the opportunity,” said Douglas. While there are a number of shark species found locally, typically only the great white shark attacks are lethal.
In the last 60 years, there have been only 81 recorded shark attacks in California, according to the California Academy of Sciences. There have only been two fatal shark attacks in Southern California in recent decades, but in both cases, the great white shark was the culprit.
Douglas points out that sharks are really very good at identifying a prey object.
“Sharks have millions of years of evolution and they have developed an extraordinary suite of predatory devices,” said Douglas. “They rarely make a mistake.” According to Douglas, what has happened in the past 10 years is that people have done a remarkable job of looking like sea lions.
“10 years ago, most surfers used long boards," he said. "Now most surfers use short boats and dress in black wet suits making them look just like a sea lion, a favorite snack of theses deadly apex predators. With the short boards, arms and legs dangle and mimic flippers.”
On August 27, Jeff Yehling was surfing off San Onofre State Beach and reported the following to Pacific Coast Shark News.
“I was on my surfboard when I observed two sharks just cruising around right in and around the surf line. I first noticed them slowly moving just below the surface, and then noticed a fin slowly moving above the surface.” Yehling spoke with other surfers who saw the pair of sharks and they were convinced they were great whites.”
In April 2008, David Martin was fatally attacked by a great white shark while training with his triathlon group around 7 am. The attack was swift and brutal. The shark lifted Martin out of the water, both legs in its jaws while its serrated teeth made deep fatal gashes. Douglas says while the attack was horrific and tragic, it was avoidable.
“Dawn and dusk are when sharks are most active and most likely to make a mistake. You have to give the sharks their mornings and evenings as mid-day attacks are extremely rare,” he said.
Douglas also points out that a group of sea lions were clustered near the shoreline, a good indicator that a predator was nearby in the water. When Martin and his fellow swimmers went into the water, they represented a new group of pinnipeds. Then Martin fell behind, isolating himself from the group.
“That shark has no choice other than to attack,” said Douglas. “If the group would have only waited a few more hours, I believe this attack could have been avoided.”
The reality is that shark attacks are extremely rare but by exercising sound judgment, you can reduce those chances even further. “I have seen first-hand what a 16-foot white shark can do to a 100-lb. bluefin tuna and it isn’t pretty,” said Douglas. “It’s all about respecting the beast.”
There is only one sure way to avoid a shark attack and that’s by staying out of the water. For those who choose to enter the great white’s world, here are some more ways to avoid a shark attack:
- Do not go in the water at dawn or dusk as everything is in the shark’s favor. Shark attacks around mid-day are very rare.
- Avoid large groups of seals or sea lions or if you see these creatures on the beach or near the shoreline, beware.
- If you are bleeding, including menstruating, stay out of the water.
- Stay clear of fishing boats.
- The murkier the water, the easier it is for a shark to sense you without you seeing the shark. Shark attacks are more likely to occur than when the water is clear.
- Leave the water quickly and calmly if a shark is sighted. Avoid excessive splashing or arm and leg movement.
- Stay in a group as most sharks attack individuals.