Humboldt County surfer escapes shark attack
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
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A shark attack at a popular Humboldt Bay surfing spot left a surfer shaken but unhurt and underlines that it is the time of year that white sharks begin showing up in greater numbers along the North Coast.
Benjie Rose was sitting on his board 40 yards off of Samoa Beach at a spot called Power Poles on Sunday when a white shark came up under him, hitting his board and knocking him into the air, according to his account for the Shark Attack Research Committee in Van Nuys.
His board badly damaged and with a bloody nose, Rose managed to paddle into a wave and rode it onto the shore, where it broke in half and he discovered teeth marks.
Rose and other surfers alerted others who were in the water and also contacted the U.S. Coast Guard.
“This is time up north you start seeing them and it is holding true as to migratory patterns,” said Ralph Collier, founder of the committee, a clearinghouse for West Coast shark encounters.
“That is due to the salmon and steelhead run,” Collier said. “The pinnipeds, the seals, come in to feed on the salmon and the sharks come in to feed on the seals and the salmon. Stick a surfer in the middle, and it is surprising there is not more of this happening.”
A few white sharks, which can reach 20 feet in length, are usually along the coast all year, but their numbers begin increasing in September. It is not until January that surfers, body-boarders, kayakers and divers breathe a sigh of relief.
Peter Klimley of Petaluma, a marine animal behaviorist at UC Davis, said white sharks move into Northern California to feed in the fall before leaving for the center of the north Pacific in December, according to data compiled from tagging sharks.
“The most notable thing to me is we have so few shark attacks,” Klimley said. “I wouldn’t scare people, they are here. But I tell people to stay away from places where there are seals.”
Klimley also believes that any attack is accidental, since the bites are usually superficial considering what the powerful, sharp-toothed animals are capable of doing.
“We aren’t fatty enough, not high energy enough to be worth eating,” Klimley said.
There have been three attacks, none fatal, on surfers along the Sonoma County coast since 2002.
Guerneville surfer Royce Fraley was bitten in December 2006 at Dillon Beach. Megan Halavais of Santa Rosa was bitten in the leg at Salmon Creek in September 2005. Ad Michael Casey of Santa Rosa, a body-boarder, was bitten in the leg in November 2002 at Salmon Creek.
This year, Rose’s attack was the third in California. The others, also not fatal, occurred in June to a surfer at San Onofre State Beach and a diver at La Jolla.
Last year there were five attacks, one fatal, along the California coast.
Collier said there were fewer shark sightings than usual in Southern California this year, which he said could be due to colder ocean water and unsubstantiated reports of young sharks being caught in fishermen’s nets off of Baja California.