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Bumped by a shark

Recently, commercial fishermen witnessed a medium-sized great white shark attack on a harbor seal, on the remote windward side of Santa Catalina Island. On Sunday a woman kayaking off West Cove near the island's isthmus claimed to have been bumped off her kayak by a large shark.

Shark_fin2

"My first thought was, `Wow, was that a whale?"' Bettina Pereira told KCAL news. "I couldn't believe it and all of a sudden when I seen the fin I realized this is not a whale -- this is a shark. By the time I thought that ... the shark was already cruising under me and lifting the kayak up with its body, and I landed out of the kayak right onto the shark's body."

Nearby boaters drove to the rescue, pulled Pereira aboard and helped her to shore. Her son told her husband she'd been attacked by a shark.

Thoughts:

1) Avalon needs news such as this like it needs another helicopter crash or wildfire.

2) This was no shark attack and it cannot be confirmed whether whatever it was that capsized Pereira's boat was in fact a shark, though witnesses watching from afar claimed on various websites that its swirling tail looked like that of a shark. If it were an attack by a large great white, there'd be a damaged kayak and perhaps a severely damaged or dead body. This appears to have been a simple bump, perhaps by a curious predator, which proceeded to move on.

3) There are sharks around Catalina, just as there are sharks along the mainland coast. Thankfully, they are not after human blood and very rarely spill it. More people are entering island waters as the busy season kicks in, so encounters with ocean critters can be expected.

4) Unfortunately, news accounts can generate hysteria, especially when they're false and sensational. KNX, for example, ran a blurb on its website stating, "There have been reports of several Great White attacks up and down the coast, from Mexico to San Diego, in the past couple of months. In the San Diego attack, a swimmer was killed."

There have been four attacks--three off Mexico, two of them fatal; all presumed to have involved bull sharks--and one confirmed fatal attack on a swimmer, by a white shark, off Solana Beach in San Diego County. To implicate great whites in all of the attacks is not only irresponsible, but it falsely represents the species as a savage killer.

Finally, Catalina remains reasonably safe; as safe as mainland coastal waters. And swimming, diving or kayaking there is probably safer than a helicopter ride, and definitely safer than driving on mainland streets and freeways.

But please exercise caution if you go--and don't play with matches.

--Pete Thomas

Archive photo of great white shark by Tyson Rininger / AP

 
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Comments (7)

...and after reading Mr. Weilbacher's comments, I stand corrected that Mr. Thomas' article might not be nearly as responsible, as I had thought upon originally reading it. Admittedly, I had read the same snippet that was posted in the article above and thought it was just another case of "shark hysteria." However, after reading Mr. Weilbacher's account, I definitely have a different take on it.

So...Mr. Weilbacher, thank you for your responsible report of the events and for shedding more light on this story.

It's nice to see some responsible journalism with regards to this particular story. Kudos to the author.

Well, I tried to quell some of what I perceived by the limited news accounts and other website posts to be exaggeration, which can lead to hysteria. But this account by Bill Weilbacher, a diver and fisherman, forces me to alter my original post somewhat. OK, it seems to have been a predation attempt by a large shark on the woman's kayak. I also agree with Weilbacher that this would be from a white shark, perhaps one just now reaching the size where it prefers seals--or in this case kayaks that look like possible meals--over fish. Weilbacher says at least 15 feet. That would be an adult that feeds primarily on pinnipeds. Whatever the case, it is not time to sound the Catalina shark alarm. However, you won't soon find me floating on my back too far beyond the isthmus. Safe journeys everyone...

We need more reporters like you to help dispel myths about shark attacks. As you mentioned, being killed by a shark is rare. It's so rare that you're more likely to win the lottery or die from a vending machine falling on you. Over 100 million sharks are killed each year by humans, but we rarely hear about that in the news...or people being killed by vending machine. It's time to put things in perspective and recognize the importance of protecting these lions of the sea.

Pete: by saying "If it were an attack by a large great white, there'd be a damaged kayak and perhaps a severely damaged or dead body" you're not exactly playing down the *maneater* stigma that plagues great white sharks. Sure, in most cases, an attack means a bite mark on something, but sharks can be curious, just like other marine predators. And most of their attacks are survived, which means that many bite incidents are far from severly damaging or fatal. Great whites need more hyperbole like they need to be finned or hunted for their jaws.

I agree with what you wrote. Just offering my take.

I was one of the fisherman near Eagle Rock on the morning of the attack upon the woman in the kayak and, as someone who was actually there, I have to take issue with the comments of Mr. Thomas. In the first place, it absolutely WAS an attack. It was not a successful attack from the perspective of the shark, but it was unquestionably an attack none the less.

The comment that this was "simple bump, perhaps by a curious predator" is laughable. I was approximately one hundred yards from the incident and heard the woman scream as she was rolled out of the kayak. I personally watched the shark violently thrashing its tail back and forth as it bit at the kayak for approximately three to five seconds. (Contrary to Mr. Thomas' claim, the kayak DID have teeth marks which have been shown on local television news.) Everyone on my boat knew we were looking at a shark attack BEFORE the woman started screaming "Shark, Shark". Her first screams were only unintelligible shrieks. Approximately ten seconds into the incident she began yelling "shark", but we already knew what was going on by that time.

In hindsight, it appears to me that the shark was biting at the kayak and pushing in through the water much as a person would push an apple through the water while bobbing for apples. The shark was leaving teeth marks. but was unable to actually grab it because the kayak was sliding sideways as the shark swam at it. But without regard to the "bobbing for apples" theory, there is no doubt that a large great white made a purposeful, albeit unsuccessful, attack on that kayak.

I have been an avid saltwater fisherman and diver for over thirty years. I have owned a boat for over fifteen years, and have seen hundreds of sharks in our local waters (although only one other Great White) over the years. I know to an absolute certainty that what I saw was an approximately 15 foot long White shark. I saw the tail and flank of that shark as it was thrashing at the side of the kayak. There are only two shark species in our waters which would fit the description of what I saw. Either a large White, or an extremely large Mako. And while such Makos do exist in local waters, they are almost exclusively an offshore species and I have never heard of a Mako attack which looked anything like what I saw last Saturday. White sharks, on the other hand, routinely prey upon large pinnipeds in exactly the manner as which occurred on Saturday. The woman was paddling a ten foot long kayak which, when viewed from below, could easily be mistaken for a large sea lion or elephant seal. The shark hit it in a classic ambush attack which is an extremely well-documented White shark predation behavior. I know what I saw.

I certainly do agree that Catalina is a safe place to swim, just as the Freeway is a safe place to drive despite the fact that there are occasionally fatal car accidents. It's all about the odds. In fact, I swam at Catalina within two hours after that attck...although not within a few miles of the incident. I will certainly continue to swim and dive there. I agree it would be wrong to portray our local waters as teaming with man-eaters waiting for their chance. That is obviously not the case. That being said, making false denials based upon a complete lack of information or wishful thinking is as irresponsible as the contrary.

Bill Weilbacher

I agree that they should be clearer about what happened, but they are going to report this kind of thing no matter what you say. I think this would classify as an attack no matter which way you look at it, but that is pretty broad term used for this kind of thing. No one wants Catalina tourism to be harmed by this, but there have been white shark sightings off Catalina for quite a while now, so this is really nothing new. I would say that the population has probably increased in the last twenty years, and since they (Monterey Bay Aquarium) regularly look for juveniles in that region...well, it should stand to reason that larger White Sharks are out there. I am curious, why should there be damage to the kayak? If you read enough about these incidents, if the creature was large enough to throw her from the kayak then it did not need to damage it. It could have simply been curious.

In my opinion, this is 2003 all over again. Shark attacks (and deaths) happen. People cannot deal with being killed by large, big toothed creatures, particularly when lots of blood is involved. We all know what can happen to us by driving the 405 everyday. We all take our chances.


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