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Great white shark blamed for fatal attack on surfer

October 24, 2012 |  5:49 pm
Shark Bite Surf Board (2)

This post has been corrected. See below for details.

The shark that attacked a surfer Tuesday at Surf Beach was a great white, estimated at 15-16 feet in length, according to the Santa Barbara County sheriff.

Ralph S. Collier, a shark expert from the Shark Research Committee of Chatsworth, made the determination after examining the body of Francisco Javier Solorio Jr., of nearby Orcutt, who died Tuesday of a massive wound to the torso, according to a statement from the sheriff's office. [Updated at 6:45 p.m.: Collier said he also examined Solorio's surfboard and determined the size of the great white by the distance between tooth punctures on the board.]

The beaches at Vandenberg Air Force Base, meanwhile, remain under a 72-hour closure.

"The intent is to allow time for any potential hazard to leave the area," said Col. Nina Armagno, 30th Space Wing commander at the base. "Officials from Vandenberg and Santa Barbara County are working together to reopen our beaches."

A locked gate greeted anyone daring -- some would say foolish -- enough to enter the waters off Surf Beach so soon after the death of a 39-year-old surfer at the windy, dune-fringed spot five miles from  Lompoc.

“It’s Surf Beach and, ironically, we’re advising people not to surf it,” said Sherwin Gunn, an employee at Surf Connection, a Lompoc shop that offers gear for skateboarders and surfers.

Gunn echoed other locals about the down sides of Surf Beach. The currents are tricky, they say, and the ride, even for experienced surfers, is choppy, measured in powerful bursts instead of long, swooping arcs.

“Nobody local looks at it like a nice day at the beach,” Gunn said.

Solorio was an avid surfer who had frequented the spot since he was a boy. He is survived by his wife and their young daughter.

The day before Solorio’s death, the family of Lucas Ransom, a 19-year-old chemical engineering student at UC Santa Barbara, gathered at Surf Beach in his memory. He was killed by a shark on Oct. 22, 2010. They also paid tribute to Lucas, who would have graduated from the university last June, by establishing a scholarship in his honor.

-- Steve Chawkins in Lompoc

Photo: The victim's surfboard. Credit: Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office

[For the record, 6:33 p.m.: A previous version of this post incorrectly said the photo was of the victim's body board.]