About the Shark Research Committee

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Pacific Coast
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Distribution and Diet of Pacific Coast White Sharks

Predatory Behavior of Pacific Coast White Sharks

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White Shark Encounters Along the Pacific Coast

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Pacific Coast Shark News 2003

The following reports for 2003 have been provided as a public service. They are intended to inform our visitors of current shark activities along the Pacific Coast of North America.


San Onofre White Sharks  — On November 6, 2003, Jim Serpa, Supervising Ranger, Department of Parks and Recreation reported that a juvenile female white shark, 5-feet in length, had washed ashore at Surf Beach North of the San Onofre Power Plant on November 3, 2003. The shark's dorsal fin and upper jaw had been removed and their was a large hole, about 1.5 inches in diameter, in the top of the head. It was suggestive of a gun-shot wound. Over the proceeding 10 days there have also been several anecdotal reports from surfers regarding white sharks in the same area. Please report any shark encounters or sightings to the Shark Research Committee.


Kauai, Hawaii  —  November 6, 2003 Shark Attack Update. On October 31, 2003 Bethany Hamilton, age 13, was attacked by a 14 - 15 foot Tiger Shark off Kauai, Hawaii, which resulted in the loss of her arm. Donations can be made to the First Hawaiian Bank under the account name "Friends of Bethany Hamilton", or mailed to their Lihue branch at 4423 Rice Street, Lihue, HI. 96766. If you are unable to send a donation, a few words of encouragement via an email to her web site (http://www.bethanyhamilton.com/) would be appreciated by this very courageous young lady.


Redondo Beach  —  On November 5, 2003 Monterey Bay Aquarium announced that
Case Spencer and his wife found their electronic shark tag September 30 during a stroll with their child along Redondo Beach. The aquarium paid a $500 reward to the Spencer’s for returning their tag. The first tag began to transmit data to the aquarium via satellite, but transmissions stopped when the tag washed ashore, according to the aquarium. The remaining data will be recovered from the tag's built-in microprocessor once it arrives in Monterey.


Manhattan Beach  —  On 4 October 2003 Monterey Bay Aquarium posted a $500 reward for anyone who finds an electronic tag lost in the area of Manhattan Beach on or about the first of October. The tag was placed on a juvenile white shark that was released on 2 August 2003 from a holding pen in the area of Malibu/Paradise Cove. The tag is white in color and shaped like a small tube with a bulb at one end, with a wire protruding from the bulb. If you find the tag please call the Monterey Bay Aquarium at 1-831-648-4800 or contact the Shark Research Committee.


Avila Beach Closure  —  On September 24, 2003 Greg Weisberg, Marine Safety Supervisor, Port San Luis Harbor District, confirmed that two fishermen had observed a large shark attacking a Harbor Seal on Saturday, September 20, at about 1200 hours, 500 yards southeast of Avila Rock at Avila Beach. In accordance with the Port San Luis Harbor Commission policy Avila Beach was closed. Greg Weisberg stated that Avila Beach would remain closed until Friday. Also, there was an unconfirmed report of a large shark off Oceano Beach on Sunday, September 21. Warnings were given to surfers and swimmers to stay out of the water at Pismo, Grover and Oceano Beaches, which are not under the direction of the Port San Luis Harbor District. Please report any shark encounters or sightings to the Shark Research Committee.


Will Rogers State Beach  — On 5 September 2003 several Los Angeles TV stations broadcast video during their evening newscasts of a white shark swimming off Will Rogers State Beach in Pacific Palisades. The shark was 50 - 100 meters from the beach when first observed at about 1730 hrs. It was estimated to be about 2 meters in length. This is the same location where a number of juvenile white sharks were sighted in early July. Please report any shark encounters or sightings to the Shark Research Committee. 


San Onofre White Sharks  — On 5 September 2003 Steve Long, Lifeguard Supervisor at San Onofre State Beach, and Jim Serpa, Supervising Ranger, confirmed several white shark sightings during the past week. On Tuesday lifeguard personnel in their departmental boat observed a white shark breach about 300 meters from shore at Trail # 1. On Wednesday, at about 1400 hrs, Steve Long and a park ranger observed a 2 meter white shark breach 200 meters off the beach at Trail # 1. On Friday a 3 meter white shark was reported in the surf zone, ¾ of a mile North of Trail # 1, at Unit # 1 of the San Onofre Power Plant. The breaching behavior by juvenile and adult white sharks has been observed frequently at San Onofre State Beach since late last year. A positive determination as to the motivation for this behavior is still under review. A number of possibilities are being considered as none of these events are associated with an attempted predation of a marine mammal. At best pinnipeds are only infrequent visitors to this area and none have been reported since before January 2003. I observed both adult and juvenile white shark breaching at Trail # 1 during August. Please report any shark encounters or sightings to the Shark Research Committee.


Beaches to Remain Closed  —  On 29 August 2003, Casey Nielsen, Operations Manager, Post San Luis Harbor District, confirmed that Avila Beach, Olde Port Beach, and Fisherman's Beach would remain closed until at least next Tuesday. This action was taken by the Harbor District commissioner's following the discovery of a dead sea lion that washed ashore at Fisherman's Beach that may have been attacked by a shark. Under the new guidelines established by the Harbor District beach closures will be extended another five days. Please report any shark encounters or sightings to the Shark Research Committee.


Avila Beach Closure  —  On 27 August 2003 the Port San Luis Harbor Commission announced that Avila Beach, Olde Port Beach, and Fisherman's Beach would remain closed at least through Friday, 29 August 2003. This decision was reached in conjunction with a new beach closure policy for shark attacks and sightings. The new policy following a "shark incident" requires a beach closure for a period of 5 consecutive days. A shark incident was defined as "an injury to a person that was likely caused by a shark, a shark bitten marine mammal carcass, credible (confirmed) sighting of a white shark within three miles of the harbor, closure of other nearby beaches because of a shark incident and conditions that pose a risk to the public." This action was the result of the fatal white shark attack on Deborah Franzman, 19 August 2003, and subsequent reputable sightings of a large white shark(s) in the area by fishermen and beachgoers. Please report any shark encounters or sightings to the Shark Research Committee.

San Onofre White Sharks  —  On 27 August 2003 a reliable source told Dave Schulte that "a U. S. Coast Guard helicopter was hovering this morning above San Onofre State Beach and spotted four sharks." The largest was estimated at 17 feet and was slightly further from shore than the three smaller sharks. There is an unconfirmed report that lifeguards, under the direction of Jim Serpa, have established a task force to deal with the increased activity at Trail # 1. Although these sharks have not demonstrated any aggression toward the surfers in the past, extreme caution is urged for anyone using this area for ocean recreational activities. Please report any shark encounters or sightings to the Shark Research Committee.

San Onofre White Sharks  —  On 24 August 2003 numerous TV reports and video were aired about the "Sharks of San Onofre." Several Los Angeles TV news casts showed two white sharks swimming very close to several surfers, as had been described to me during the prior months. The reason for the attraction of the white sharks to this area might be the result of decaying tissue and body fluids leaching from a dead whale buried on the beach. Waves washing over the whale's grave at high tide could create an "odor corridor" that could attract sharks to this location. For further details a check of Los Angeles media web sites will probably provide current status. Future observations and/or encounters at San Onofre State Beach, Trail # 1 will be posted when received. Please report any shark encounters or sightings to the Shark Research Committee.


San Onofre White Sharks  —  On 23 August 2003 I drove to Trail # 1, San Onofre State Beach, to meet with Dave Schulte and review a video he had taken of a shark off the surfing beach. This day would also be the unscheduled culmination of a research project that had been 'quietly undertaken' in November 2002. At that time I had been asked by SurfPulse.com to respond to Dave Schulte regarding several shark encounters that had occurred at Trail # 1, San Onofre State Beach. Over the next 9 months Dave provided numerous accounts of his encounters and those of his fellow surfers with the "Sharks of San Onofre." He and his friends had witnessed, on numerous occasions, white sharks breaching in the vicinity of a reef that ranges from shore to a location about 70 meters from the beach at Trail # 1. They had also experienced numerous encounters with a the sharks, swimming within a few feet of their boards. Neither Dave nor I were ever informed of any aggressive behavior directed at a surfer by any of these sharks during this period. However, following the story in the LA Times, and after carefully considering the data we had accumulated over this nine month period and reviewing Dave's tape, a decision to contact the media with our information was deemed responsible by all those involved in this study. All of the individuals interviewed stated that sharks had never been observed prior to the burial of a dead whale on the beach at Trail # 1 (see 20 July 2003 Beached Whale). Please report any shark encounters or sightings to the Shark Research Committee.


San Onofre White Sharks  —  On 22 August 2003 the Los Angeles Times reported that a US Marine Helicopter had taken photographs of several white sharks off a popular surfing beach in San Diego County. The sharks were subsequently identified as white sharks.


White Shark sighting at Avila Beach  —  On Saturday, 23 August 2003, Joe Dearinger and Deke Wells were fishing for live bait near the Avila Beach pier about 1000 hours when they observed an 18-to-20 foot white shark breach and attack a pinniped 500 meters from the beach.
Dearinger was about to drop and drag his fishing net in the 6-fathom deep water when he saw two harbor seals jump out of the water "an unusual occurrence" according to the fishermen. Then another seal jumped out of the water as simultaneously a huge white shark surfaced and grab onto its hind flippers. Dearinger said he saw the entire shark, including its dorsal fin which he estimated to be 2.5 feet high. After the attack on the seal he said the other seals in the area scattered. In their 15 years of fishing at Avila Bay, neither Wells nor Dearinger has ever seen a white shark. They attribute the recent sightings and attack on Deborah Franzman to be the result of a large pinniped population in the harbor. Wells said the splash created by the seal and shark was so large he likened it to that of a whale. Besides the shark observed on Saturday, the two fishermen saw a large white shark several hours following the attack on Franzman.

Upon notification of this sighting the Port San Luis Harbor District closed the waters at Avila Beach, Fishermen's Beach and Olde Port Beach and said they would remain closed until further notice. For additional details please visit the Santa Maria Times at: http://www.santamariatimes.com/articles/2003/08/24/news/local/news02.txt.
Please report any shark encounters or sightings to the Shark Research Committee.


Dead Sea Lion at Oceano  —  It was reported on 21 August 2003 that the remains of a California Sea Lion (Zalophus califonianus) washed up on the beach at Oceano with a number of distinct bites from what was thought to be a large adult white shark. Ed Poppino of Arroyo Grande reported that a biologist removed the remains of the animal from the beach to try and ascertain whether the bites to the pinniped were consistent with those suffered by Deborah B. Franzman at Avila Beach on 19 August 2003. Oceano is about 5 miles south of Avila Beach. Please report any shark encounters or sightings to the Shark Research Committee.


Avila Beach Fatal Shark Attack  —  On Tuesday, 19 August 2003, at 0815 hours, Deborah B. Franzman was fatally attacked by a white shark 50 to 75 meters from shore and 200 meters south of the pier at Avila Beach, San Luis Obispo County, California, near a line of buoys that are used to mark the swimming area. She was dressed in a black wet suit and swim fins.

Witnesses reported Franzman swimming near a number of pinnipeds that might have been feeding on a school of bait fish. Suddenly, the pinnipeds scattered in a flurry of ocean spray and within only a few seconds a large white shark breached, grabbing the woman, momentarily pulling her beneath the surface. She reemerged and began shouting for help. About 30 lifeguards were on the beach preparing for a competition and heard the cries for help. Without consideration for their own safety, lifeguards Tim Borland, Billy Larsen, Rich Griguoli, and Jeff Fesler ran into the surf and swam to the injured swimmer. When they reached Franzman, she was unconscious, face-down in the water. They immediately noticed the severity of her wounds when they turned her over on her back. The signaled their colleagues on shore that she had been attacked by a shark as they swam quickly for the beach.

Upon reaching shore they immediately began CPR but all efforts to revive Deborah Franzman failed. She had sustained a major injury to her left thigh which had severed the femoral artery. The shark was estimated at 15 to 18 feet in length. No specifics were provided as to the method used for this estimate. Deborah Franzman was the second fatal shark attack victim from San Luis Obispo County and the ninth for California since 1950. Please report any shark encounters or sightings to the Shark Research Committee.

Beached Whale  —  On 20 July 2003 a Baird's Beaked Whale (Berardius bairdii) washed up at Ocean Beach between Lawton and Kirkham Streets in San Francisco. The cause of death was unknown. Mark Alfaro of SurfPulse.com spoke with a researcher at the scene. The researcher told Alfaro the carcass measured 41.5 feet in length and that it was in "extremely good condition" for this species of whale, which is normally found far offshore in the Northern Pacific. More relevant to surfers was the possibility the carcass might have attracted sharks to the area. There were dozens of discernable shark bites present on the whale, several which suggested a large white shark had fed on the dead whale. Several days later the animal was buried in a makeshift grave on the beach. When asked by SurfPulse.com for a recommendation to surfers, I suggested they (surfers) be cautious and very observant when surfing this area. If the incoming waves were washing over the site of the whale's grave the ebbing tides could carry the body fluids and scent far out to sea in an "odor corridor." I would exercise extreme caution, or avoid completely; swimming, diving, or surfing this area for at least several days. Additional information and photographs can be viewed at: http://www.surfpulse.com/whale1.shtml.


Elephant Seal  —  On 30 July 2003, 10 days following the beaching of the whale, Mark Alfaro of SurfPulse.com reported; "A shark bitten northern elephant seal [Mirounga angustirostris] carcass washed up at Ocean Beach, just south of Noriega. The seal, which is approximately 8 feet in length, had several large bites to its body. The largest bite mark is approximately 24 inches in diameter. If this wound is from a single bite it would indicate the presence of a very large whitey. Many of the bite marks are clearly from (at least) medium-sized sharks. The fresh carcass is oozing fresh blood and dislodged entrails into the water. Be advised that this is fresh chum and there are likely some hungry critters in the area. There were at least two reported shark sightings at Ocean Beach last week while a whale carcass was beached just a ¼ mile north of this sea lion's present resting place." This elephant seal predation might have been the result of the whale's body fluids continuing to flow into the ocean at this location, thereby attracting large predators to the area.


Shark sightings at Ocean Beach  —  On Sunday, 3 August 2003, SurfPulse.com reported; "about six surfers exited the water after Brent E. observed a dorsal fin, about 12 inches in height, less than six feet from his location. He alerted five other surfers nearby and shouted a warning to others who were lined up about 20 meters to the south. All quickly headed for the safety of the beach. This incident followed several reports of shark sightings over the past several weeks. Someone claimed to have seen a shark at Kelly's on Friday, August 1st, in the late afternoon." The elephant seal at Noriega was buried on the beach. As with the whale, it is possible that fluids from the seal could also leach into the water for some time. Please report any shark encounters or sightings to the Shark Research Committee.

Juvenile White Sharks & Monterey Bay Aquarium  —  Recent reports in the media have addressed the presence of juvenile white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) off Southern California beaches, including; several off Will Rogers State Beach in Pacific Palisades, a specimen that was caught by a fishermen off the Hermosa Beach pier, and a female that was captured by the Monterey Bay Aquarium and placed in a holding pen off Malibu. This specimen was subsequently released by Monterey Bay Aquarium on Sunday, 3 August 2003. Video of two juvenile white sharks that were observed off Will Rogers State Beach can be viewed at Mike Schmidt's web site; http://www.sharkfishing.us/GW_willrogers.htm (Although a tournament shark fishermen, Mike is actively engaged in cooperative shark research programs, including tagging, with several organizations).

The material contained on this Web site is shared as a public service and to further the scientific goals of the Shark Research Committee.  All text and images on this Web site are the exclusive property of the Shark Research Committee.  Information on this Web site may be used for private study, but may not otherwise be published, duplicated, or modified in any way without the prior written permission of Ralph S. Collier.