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Suspected great white shark attacks kayaker near Santa Cruz

July 9, 2012 | 11:25 am

Sean Van Sommeran was on his way to look for some basking sharks Saturday morning when he got a call from a friend at the Capitola wharf in Monterey Bay.

A shark had bitten the bottom of a man's kayak, the friend said. Van Sommeran — head of the Pelagic Shark Research Foundation — should probably come to the pier.

When Van Sommeran arrived, he took one look at the bottom of the kayak and realized it was probably the work of a great white, one he guesses was at least 14 feet long.

Sometimes great whites get confused with larger-than-normal mako sharks — the same kind of fish caught off the coast of Marina del Rey a week ago — but Van Sommeran said tiny marks on the kayak showed the shark had serrated teeth, indicating a great white was the likely culprit.

"These tiny little cuts are the signature of a white shark," he said. "It's the primary suspect anyway in this type of stuff."

Tooth fragments were later found in the kayak, but Van Sommeran had not examined them.

Authorities told the Santa Cruz Sentinal the 52-year-old kayaker was fishing near a kelp bed when he felt something bump against the back of his 13-foot boat. Moments later, the shark lifted up the kayak and attacked the front of it.

The man was thrown from the kayak but not hurt. Another boater rescued him from the water.

The man "was in good spirits" when Van Sommeran spoke to him on the pier, the researcher said.

"He was just happy he was back and was safe," he said.

Van Sommeran said he wasn't surprised by news of the encounter. Sharks are seen in the area every year, he said, and more marine life has been spotted in the area recently.

"It's the first week of July, so there's just a huge number of people packed at the beaches during nice weather," he said. "With that huge abundance of wildlife in the bay, it was just good odds that some kind of wildlife was going to come across a boat or a small kayak."

Still, he said, it's enough to keep local authorities on their toes.

Capitola police issued a text message alert Saturday, informing residents about the attack, the Sentinal reported.

Although Van Sommeran said locals would keep an eye out for the shark, there was "very little" they could do except remind beachgoers to be careful in the water.

"For what they are and what they do, sharks are well-behaved," he said. "They very rarely bite people. They have a very fixed menu, and humans aren't typically on it.

"But a shark doesn't have to eat you to get paramedics busy," he said. "When it can go wrong, it can go terribly wrong."

A shark believed to be a great white also was spotted Saturday off the coast of Cape Cod, where a man said he saw a fin following him as he was paddle-boarding about 200 feet off the Massachusetts coast. The man made it to shore and was not hurt.


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— Kate Mather

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