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Report of shark sighting off Sunset Beach causes buzz among surfers

October 7, 2009 |  5:22 pm

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Many surfers who ride the waves at beaches in Santa Monica Bay will tell you they don't think about sharks. But photos shot this week by a longtime local surfer and surf shop owner have created a buzz about "Jaws" in the lineup.

The photos, taken Saturday morning by Randy Wright, apparently show a large white shark jumping out of the waters off Sunset Beach near Pacific Palisades.

"It was like, 'Oh my God,'" Wright recalled in an interview today. "I was really stoked ... It was definitely a fascinating experience."

Wright, who owns Horizons West surf shop in Santa Monica, said he was in his 10-foot kayak about 300 yards off the beach life guard tower when he snapped a series of photos capturing the animal as it broke the surface of the water. The shark was about the same size as his kayak, he said.

Wright said he was in the water as a volunteer for the the nonprofit Shark Research Committee, which conducts research on sharks and documents attacks against humans. He said he had heard that someone spotted a shark at the beach the day before so he went out the next morning about 8:30 with his waterproof camera.

"I was just  sitting out there in my kayak, not throwing chum or anything," Wright said.

Ralph Collier, head of the committee, said that sharks in that area are nothing new. With more people surfing and enjoying water sports, he said, the potential for shark sightings has increased.

"Those little critters have been out there for thousands of years," said Collier, author of "Shark Attacks of the Twentieth Century: From the Pacific Coast of North America."

The photos were posted on the committee's Web page, along with a report by Wright. Word spread after the sighting was mentioned in local TV reports and by surf blogs.

Officials with the Los Angeles County Fire Department, which oversees lifeguard operations, said today that they were aware of the photos and assume they are legitimate.

"It's a healthy ecosystem out there, and we know there's sharks in the water," said Fire Department spokesman Matt Levesque.

The sharks, he said, are "not endangering anyone."

Still, some surfers said the shark shots have caused them to think twice when paddling into the water.

"It was a little chilling," said Guy Okazaki, a Venice surfer and surfboard shaper who saw the photos on the Internet. "That was a big critter. It could take your leg off."

As for Wright, he said he's been surfing for about 30 years. And he isn't going to stop now.

"I'm part of the food chain when I'm in the [surf] lineup. I could get bit," he said. "But it hasn't happened yet."

--Robert J. Lopez

Photo: Shark that Wright said he photographed Saturday. Credit: Shark Research Committee.