Shark. For most, that one word consistently conjures up a 1975 movie promo poster of a shark launching from the depths to attack a lady who is briskly swimming along the surface unaware of her fate. Details to note,
- That movie was Jaws,
- The shark’s size in the promo poster is comparative to that of a megalodon (prehistoric shark often exceeding 52′ in length, with a mouth width of approximately 5′ – 6′.
- It was just a movie.
While shark attacks on humans do occur, they are infrequent, and rarely involve a Megalodon that has been extinct for approximately 1.4 million years.
That being said, on Friday, October 22nd, 2010 a young man by the name of Lucas Ransom was fatally attacked by a shark at Surf Beach, just north of Jalama Beach, at the Vandenberg Air Base in California. Sources report that the night before the incident, Lucas and his long-time friend Matthew Garcia were fiending over the anticipated conditions (swell, wind, and water temp) for the next morning’s surf/Bodyboarding session. The next morning they arrived at Surf Beach and were greeted with chest to head high, blue water barrels: Conditions that we as surfers crave. Shortly into their session (between 9 & 9:30am) Matthew heard his friend shout for help before he (Lucas) was pulled underneath the water by a shark. By Matthew’s account the shark was about 18′ long. When Lucas silently resurfaced Matthew raced to his aid, flipped him on his back and pulled him to shore. Due to his injury Lucas lost a tremednous amount of blood, which ultimately contributed to his death.
On October 25th, 2010 the Santa Barabara County coroner’s office reported that the shark involved in the Surf Beach incident was likely a Great White, about 17′-18′, and weighing approximately 4000 lbs. For more information regarding this particular incident please visit: LA Times Blogs; San Luis Obispo Tribune; KTLA.
The point of this post is not to spark fear, but instead to help educate those (new surfers, parents of surfers, people who have thought about surfing) who no doubt will have questions and concerns regarding the ocean. As a waterman (surfer, swimmer, lifeguard, swim/surf instructor, and Junior Lifeguard Instructor), I have a tremendous amount of respect for the ocean as moving body of energy, and the life that resides in it. In fact, I was in the water swimming around the Avila Beach Pier in a race when Deborah Franzman was fatally attacked approximately 400 yards up the beach, in 2003.
In my experience of being in the water during a fatal shark incident, witnessing a baby hammerhead shark posturing towards my board at Ala Moana Bowls in 1998, and following stories of shark incidents internationally, I have learned that there are certain signs and geographical characteristics that are consistent with shark sitings and incidents. That being said, please note that this is by no means a science, and that mother nature is often times unpredictable.
As most of the people interviewed over the past couple of weeks have mentioned, “It is their (sharks) habitat.” However, that being said, there are some areas that are more prone for shark activity than others: Places that have rocky bases and reefs; bays such as San Francisco Bay; and areas with steep drop offs from the shore (Monterey Bay, Davenport, Big Sur,); and in particular, areas that have an abundance of sea lion and seal life (San Simeon), rivermouths (like up in Northern California/Oregon.) A non-geographical sign that the “circle of life” is in motion are “bait balls.” These often involve a school of fish (sardines, mackerel, smelt, anchovies, etc.) migrating based on water temperatures and currents, and in turn attracting birds, seals, larger fish, and… Sharks. From the deck of a boat, the sands of a beach, or the crossboards of a pier these are amazing to watch. From the water with your legs hanging over your board, they can cause your heart rate to jump when aware that you are now in the middle of the “circle of life.”
Traditionally “shark season” (Discovery: Shark Week) kicks up in the month of August and lasts until about November, as this tends to be the warmer water months, birth cycles of sea lions and seals are abundant, etc. Attacks don’t happen very often, but when they do they certainly shake up our reality of being in the ocean. While Great Whites are not totally predictable, they tend to “bump” into people in water deeper than 9′, and in the areas previously mentioned (rocky bottoms; bays; rivermouths; reefs; where there is an abundance of seals, sea lions, etc.) The reality
I hope that this wasn’t too much information, but at the same time I want to help people understand something that I personally take into consideration with respect, education, and awareness each time I go into the ocean. The closest comparison on land would be our freeways and streets: there are good drivers and bad drivers, and accidents happen. But with a little education and awareness of our surroundings we can significantly reduce our chances of getting into an accident by recognizing certain signs. At the same time, life is unpredictable.
Types of Sharks and Location