Aggressive Hammerhead La Jolla, California

Saturday, August 29, 2015:  An 8 to 10-foot hammerhead circles a couple of fishing kayaks off La Jolla Shores (see video below).  As the kayaks return to the Avenida de la Playa launching area with the yellowfin tuna they had caught (the fish had been "bled out" earlier to keep them fresh) the hammerhead followed into shallow water.  News reports say the shark bit at the bottom of the kayak, excited by the scent of bled-out fish.  However, I encountered a friend who is a kayak tour guide at LJ Shores a couple of hours later and was told that the hammerhead actually tipped one of the kayaks and knocked its operator into the water.  A tour-guide colleague of hers raced to the scene and slapped his paddle on the water, driving off the shark.  From that point on La Jolla beaches were closed for 24 hours.  Read more here (although there is no mention of the man being tipped into the water).  Theories are that the super-warm El Nino water (now reaching 77 degrees F) has brought hammerheads farther north, and the yellowfin too.

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Our Primal Fear of Sharks

When people hear that you swim in the ocean, the first question they ask is, "Aren't you afraid of sharks?" 


The Dave Martin shark attack of April 25, 2008 was the first fatality in 50 years in San Diego County.  It happened at one of the calmest and safest of local beaches -- Tide Park -- at approximately 7:30 a.m., just beyond the breakers in a very low tide.
 
The shark, a female great white, 15-16 feet in length, with a 22-inch jaw, circled beneath a pod of early-morning swimmers and came back to attack the biggest person in the very center of the group.  She grabbed Dave across both legs, hoisted him out of the water, and bit him up to 7 times.  It was not a case of mistaken identity or a "hit and run."  It was a deliberate intent to kill.
 
The question is -- Why?  The attack defied all norms and instilled great fear in beach-goers.  As someone who has swum over 1000 miles in the ocean and most of them at that very beach, I had to learn more.  This website is the result of my journey.

Signs posted at San Diego beachesThe summer of 2008 was a tough one for many.  Someone told me, "Next year will be easier."  It's true that time and distance are good ingredients for peace, but what I found out needs to be known.  I embarked on a deep, new learning experience.  Graphic details in the books I read left images in my mind.  I met people who had their own philosophies.  I developed a wholly new understanding of the ocean and its  apex predator -- carcharodon carcharias, the great white shark.



 

The Odds

They say your chances of being attacked by a shark are less than of being struck by lighting or being in a car accident -- and people get in their cars every day.  What does the shark hold over us then, that makes us so afraid?

Thomas Peschak photo, shark & kayak
"When the shark came across our sea kayak, it dove to the seabed and inspected it
 from below.  When [its] dorsal fin broke the surface ... the rest was history."
Courtesy Thomas Peschak, marine photographer

The reality may be that people who frequently "use the ocean" are not so afraid, whereas the majority who don't are the ones who are afraid.  In my own experience, swimmers tend to be the most fearful -- more so than divers, kayakers, surfers or those who sail.  It may be that swimmers feel more vulnerable, clad in almost nothing, immersed in the water rather than on it, with no boat or surfboard or gear to wield or be shielded by.  For landlubbers, what might have been a dormant primal fear was (or is) amplified by the movie Jaws and its unforgettable theme music.  The film, which began as a non-blockbuster hardcover book, turned a fish into a monster, with monster ratings and monster marketability.

Year of the SharkWhen the world of news goes flat for a while, we will have another "Year of the Shark."  The summer of 2001 was all about shark attacks (finally giving way to 9/11, which kept the media very busy), even though the global number of attacks that year was less than the year before.  Five of the 76 encounters in 2001 were fatal, while 12 of the 85 encounters in 2000 were fatal.  The drama of the summer came with the bull-shark attack on 8-year-old Jesse Arbogast in Pensacola, Florida, resulting in Jesse's arm being torn off and then re-attached to his body by surgeons.  Jesse's ordeal was more than sensational.  The 7-foot shark would not let go of him, even in knee-deep water, while his father and a park ranger tried to beat it off.  Unbelievably, he survived.

The Dave Martin attack of 2008 made world news.  One of the swimmers traveled to the East Coast a couple of days later and heard people discussing it in an elevator.  They were shocked to learn that someone right there in the elevator had been part of the group in the shark attack.  Dave was a skilled veterinarian who loved the ocean and the animal world.  A local lifeguard told me that day that the concensus among lifeguards was that if they "had to go," being taken by a great white in the ocean would be the finest way.

Sharks are not "monsters of the deep."  People fear them as they fear many things, including death, disease and going broke.  Our media exploits them, especially on television.  As one activist (Sharkman) points out,  "Since no true sea monsters have been discovered, Discovery has cast sharks in that role."  We seem to thrive on creating enemies where there are none, terrifying ourselves in nonsensical, limiting ways.  What is the point of being afraid of a large, curious life form that lives in the ocean?

Like humans, white sharks are warm-blooded and give live birth.  They are problem-solvers, not indiscriminating eating machines.  "White sharks," says marine photographer Thomas Peschak, "are much more cautious and inquisitive in nature than aggressive and unpredictable.  At no time have we ever had a shark show any aggression towards our little yum-yum yellow craft ... (see photo above).  We believe that white sharks come inshore in such great numbers to socially interact with others of their species, perhaps even to mate or give birth to their young.  We have observed many sharks interacting with one another at close range, following behind or swimming tight circles around one another for extended periods of time. To observe and document great white sharks mating or giving birth is the holy grail of shark research and marine wildlife photography, but it is also an extremely difficult and perhaps an even almost impossible task." 


 

 
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Jaws: The Prequel

Jaws The Prequel

Condensed story of
the famous 1916
New Jersey shark attacks
Read here