G. Niblock on the L41 TipSUP Noserider. Photo: J. Chandler

Friday, September 7, 2007

The Great White Presence

While I was in the Islands a longtime surfer named Todd Endris became part of the food chain while surfing at a beach a few miles from where I regularly surf. Marina beach is just like my more northerly surf ground, in fact for all intents and purposes they are identical.

Fortunately for Todd he wasn't eaten, but he was badly bitten and is hospitalized while recovering. There aren't a lot of shark attacks in my area and of the eight or so that have occurred within the last fifty something years, only two have been fatals (one swimmer and one knee boarder/surfer, both in Pacific Grove). Given the extreme rarity of shark attacks it is obvious that the odds of being attacked by a Great White are astronomical but...we all think about it don't we?

I don't think there is anyone on the planet who fancies that being eaten by a wild animal would be a good way to go. And eating Todd was definitely what that shark was trying to do. Todd was hit twice. And as most shark experts will tell us the first bite was exploratory..."hmmm, is this food?" The second bite was..."yeah baby, lunch!"

While it is widely believed that August and September are the high probability months for a large shark population in this area, due primarily to the fact that the elephant seal birthing grounds are at Ano Nuevo (part of the so-called Red Triangle"), the Pelagic Shark Research Foundation doesn't set up shop in earnest until October. They do the bulk of their yearly research from October through early February. (Interestingly the two fatal shark attacks on humans both occurred in December.)

As for me I know they are out there, I don't ever really expect to see one but I am often wary or even paranoid that there could be one coming at me right now! Part of my defense mechanism for keeping myself calm and in the water are to create myths about sharks that just aren't true. Some of them are as follows:
  • Myth: It's too shallow for a big shark. Fact: Most shark attacks occur in 3 to 6 feet of water.
  • Myth: There are dolphins in the water, they drive off sharks. Fact: There was a large pod of dolphins right next to Todd when he was attacked.
  • Myth: It's the wrong season for sharks. Fact: Great Whites inhabit the entire coastal shore of California and in water temps from 50-80 degrees. While there may be more in August-September because of Ano Nuevo and while scientists think GW's have a migratory pattern, they can be anywhere, anytime off the California coastline.
  • Myth: My board is too big (too small, too wide, etc.) for a shark to mistake it for food and attack me. Fact: While sharks may not eat everything, they will bite anything (remember that first "exploratory" bite).
  • Here are some more...
The bottom line is that sharks can be found anywhere, anytime in the State of California. And the results of a big predatory animal trying to eat you aren't pretty. When we venture into the ocean, we're in the wilderness even if it's only 25 yards offshore. We shouldn't stick our heads in the sand...if we're going to play in Great White shark territory we should know a little something about how to stay safe and alive while enjoying our surf.

In that vein you can read a lot of do's and dont's about how to avoid shark attack...but if we followed those rules we would never surf again. We all have our own individual tolerance for risk. The most important thing is to be knowledgeable and know your self.

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