A great white shark off the Central California coast bit a surfer today. But, the quick acting surfer survived the attack and being dragged under water by the shark.
The 50-year-old man, identified by people at the scene as Kevin Swanson, was surfing in relatively calm waters at Montaña de Oro State Park. According to witnesses, there was no warning at all. After around 11 a.m., the approximately 10-foot shark (clearly a juvenile since adults are much bigger) swam straight up from under Swanson’s board. It turned and bit at the surfer. The shark grazed the board and sunk its teeth into the victim’s right hip and thigh. Then, it dragged him into the water. The victim was below the water for several seconds before he surfaced on his damaged board, according to other surfers nearby.
Andrew Walsh, who was surfing with Swanson and approximately 10 feet away from him, said when Swanson surfaced, he yelled “Shark attack!” and began paddling for shore. Once there, he used his surfboard’s leash cord to fashion a tourniquet for his right leg, Walsh told reporters. Two doctors who happened to be walking on the beach rushed over to help Swanson, too, and called 911.
The victim, who reportedly lives in the Morro Bay area, stayed composed throughout the ordeal, according to Supervising State Park Ranger Robert Colligan. “He was fairly calm throughout,” the ranger said, but he did note that Swanson did not want to look at his leg after the tourniquet was applied.
The surfer was flown by air ambulance to Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center in San Luis Obispo. His injuries are non-life-threatening.
Authorities did not close the beach because of the attack. Instead, per the county’s coastal incident management plan, the state park will post shark warning notifications throughout the beach informing visitors of today’s attack. The notifications will be there for five days, unless another shark is spotted in the area. If so, the signs will stay up for an additional five days.
Shark Attacks Not Frequent
How common are great white sharks off the California coast? Research published in June put the estimate at 200 to 400, and an estimated 2,400 in the Pacific Ocean. The great white shark is protected under the federal Endangered Species Act, but the numbers are increasing in recent years.
Sharks generally do not attack humans, unless they confuse the human for seals, dolphins or other prey. The strange thing about this attack is the normal season for them to be close to the shore in California is August through October.
While people fear shark attacks off the California coast, the reality is that they are rare. From 2006 through 2010, there were only 14 off California; however, two were fatalities. Reportedly, there have been 102 humans attacked by sharks in California waters recorded since records began being kept.
The shark capital of the United States is Florida. There were 110 shark attacks (one of which was fatal) off that state during the 2006 to 2010 period.
The surfer today survived the shark attack with his quick acting swim for shore, tourniquet and calm demeanor. He also has quite a tale to tell when he returns to work.
By Dyanne Weiss