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Experts to examine board of surfer killed in shark attack

October 24, 2012 |  7:09 am


Experts are expected to examine the bite marks on the surfboard of a 39-year-old surfer killed by a shark off the Central Coast, officials say.

The Santa Barbara County coroner’s office said they will consult with a shark bite expert to examine both the board and the wounds on Francisco Javier Solorio Jr. to determine what kind of shark it was.

Beaches were closed after the fatal shark attack Tuesday at Surf Beach near Vandenberg Air Force Base. Solorio, of Orcutt, was described as an avid surfer who had been coming to the surf spot since he was a boy.

He 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 bite marks on it, said Lt. Erik Raney of the Sheriff’s Department's Santa Maria station.

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 signs of that 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 Institution 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.

The latest occurred two years ago, on Oct. 22, 2010, when Lucas Ransom and a friend were boogie-boarding and 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.

While marine experts say shark attacks are extremely rare, they differ over the reasons for the uptick in both fatal and nonfatal attacks along the West Coast.

Nosal said the documented increase in shark attacks is largely due to more people surfing and body boarding, and not because of an increase in the number of sharks.

"The population off of California is rather small," Nosal said, adding that the most recent survey placed the state's great white shark population at around 300. "The fact that people are reporting more shark sightings is due in large part to there being an increase in awareness."

But Peter Howorth, director of the Santa Barbara Marine Mammal Center, expressed is skepticism with studies that suggest the shark population is declining.

Howorth said he believes a state ban on gill nets and a prohibition against "the taking of great whites" has led to an increase in the number of sharks, including species that prey on large marine mammals.


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-- Andrew Blankstein