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Shark attacks: 2008 figures could indicate troubling trend for West Coast

January 13, 2009 |  2:09 pm

A sign is posted at Fletcher Cove Park in Solana Beach a day after David Martin was fatally attacked.

Here's something to ponder as you plan your next surfing trip: There were five unprovoked shark attacks along the West Coast, slightly more than double the number for 2007. All involved great white sharks, but only one attack -- that on swimmer David Martin off Solana Beach in April -- was fatal.

The others involved surfers (two) and kayakers (two) and occurred off Huntington Beach, Santa Catalina Island, Santa Barbara and Tomales Bay in Northern California. This is according to the Shark Research Committee, which keeps track of attacks occurring along the West Coast.

Martin reportedly became the third confirmed fatal shark-attack victim during the 21st century. The 2008 figures bring to 42 the total number of authenticated shark attacks along the West Coast during the first eight years of the century -- more than five times the 20th century annual average.

It might be simply because more people venturing into the ocean. It could also be that more white sharks are milling off Southern California, perhaps taking advantage of an exploding population of California sea lions. Or it could be that both factors are in play.

Not included were attacks occurring elsewhere in the United States or internationally, notably three bull shark attacks -- two of them fatal -- on surfers off Zihuatanejo, Mexico, last spring.

I was present during that bizarre, Jaws-like scare. Hopefully, there will be no repeat in 2009. Here's also hoping that fewer white sharks off the West Coast will mistake people for prey.

--Pete Thomas

A sign cautions beachgoers just south of Zihuatanejo, Mexico, after three shark attacks, two of them fatal.

Photo (top): A sign is posted at Fletcher Cove Park in Solana Beach a day after David Martin was fatally attacked. Credit: Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times. Photo (bottom): A sign cautions beachgoers just south of Zihuatanejo, Mexico, after three shark attacks, two of them fatal. Credit: Pete Thomas / Los Angeles Times

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