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Friends mourn surfer killed in shark attack off Santa Barbara

October 24, 2012 |  3:36 am

Beaches were closed after a fatal shark attack in Santa Barbara County

Friends on Tuesday mourned a 39-year-old surfer killed in a shark attack off the waters of Central California.

Francisco Javier Solorio Jr. of Orcutt, Calif., was described as an avid surfer who had been coming to the surf spot since he was a boy.

Solario was dragged by a friend to the beach after he sustained a massive bite on his upper torso that turned the water surrounding him red, Santa Barbara County sheriff’s officials said. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

“His friend saw the shark bite him,” said sheriff’s Sgt. Mark Williams. “It was a pretty bad bite.”

Solorio’s surfboard had visible signs of bite marks on it, said Lt. Erik Raney, of the sheriff’s Santa Maria Station. The Santa Barbara County coroner’s office is expected to consult with a shark bite expert to examine both Solorio’s wounds and the marks on the board.

"He was a really good surfer," friend Nathan Winkles told KEYT-TV.

The attack occurred amid light winds and 2-foot swells shortly before 11 a.m. off Surf Beach. The beach runs along the edge of Vandenberg Air Force Base and is a popular spot with local swimmers and surfers.

Officials are still trying to determine what kind of shark was responsible for the fatal attack. One expert, however, said the attack had all the hallmarks of a great white.

“There is no other species swimming off of the coast regularly that could possibly do that kind of damage,” said Andrew Nosal, of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography. He added that great whites are responsible for almost all shark attacks off the California coast.

Solorio’s death marks the 13th fatal shark attack in California waters since 1950. Six of those attacks have occurred since 2003.

Two years ago, on Oct. 22, 2010, Lucas Ransom and his friend were boogie-boarding when a shark appeared and pulled the 19-year-old under, ripping his left leg off at the pelvis.

Ransom’s surfing buddy Matthew Garcia told The Times the shark was 18 to 20 feet long and the attack was stealthy, sudden and vicious.

“It was all really quick. ... Imagine a river of blood. That's what the wave looked like for a minute,” Garcia said. “You would have never known there was a shark in the water.”

Shark attacks declined in the United States last year, but worldwide fatalities doubled, jumping to their highest level since 1993, according to a report released this year.

Of the 75 shark attacks around the globe in 2011, a dozen were fatal, up from six the year before, according to the annual report by the International Shark Attack File, which is compiled by the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida.

Despite the publicity that comes with shark attacks, they are extremely rare, Nosal said.

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-- Wesley Lowery and Andrew Blankstein

Photo: Surfers who were with the 39-year-old victim of a fatal shark attack leave Surf Beach near Vandenberg Air Force Base in Santa Barbara County on Tuesday. Credit: Leah Thompson / Santa Maria Times

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