Veteran triathlete killed by shark off Fletcher Cove
By Karen Kucher and Debbi Farr Baker
UNION-TRIBUNE BREAKING NEWS TEAM
and Terry Rodgers and Angela Lau
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITERS
2:26 p.m. April 25, 2008
Dave Martin, 66, may have been killed Friday by a great white shark, authorities said. Some facts about the species:
Status: Largest predatory fish on Earth.
Features: Slate-gray upper body blends in with rocky coastal sea floor. It gets its name from the white underbelly.
Size: 15 to more than 20 feet.
Weight: 5,000 pounds or more.
Speed: Powerful tail can help it travel up to 15 miles per hour.
Senses: A great white shark can detect one drop of blood in 25 gallons of water and can track even tiny amounts of blood in water up to 3 miles away.
Attacks: Of the 100 plus shark attacks worldwide each year, about one-third to half are attributed to great whites. Most of the attacks are not fatal.
Population: No firm numbers. Scientists agree their number are dropping because of factors such as overfishing and being caught accidentally in gill nets. Great whites are federally protected.
Locally: No resident population of great whites in San Diego County, but some travel south from Los Angeles to give birth.
SOURCE: National Geographic
SOLANA BEACH – A retired veterinarian who was swimming with members of a triathlon club was killed Friday morning in a shark attack north of Fletcher Cove.
A marine expert said the wounds appeared to be from a great white shark, an attack he described as “practically unprecedented” in the area.
The victim, 66-year-old David Martin of Solana Beach, a member of the Triathlon Club of San Diego and a father of four, was attacked shortly after 7 a.m. as he was swimming about 150 yards offshore in water 20 to 30 feet deep, officials said.
Richard H. Rosenblatt, a professor emeritus of marine biology at Scripps Institution of Oceanography who examined Martin's body, said he believed the shark was a great white between 12- and 17-feet-long.
Rosenblatt said witnesses reported that Martin “was thrust vertically up out of the water, and that sounds like what white sharks do when they attack a seal.”
Rosenblatt said the shark likely thought the swimmer was a seal, and that almost all attacks by white sharks on swimmers are cases of mistaken identity.
Encinitas Lifeguard Lt. Paul Chapman said Martin had deep jagged lacerations on his upper thighs to the lower shin, with a bite radius of about 22 inches.
Rosenblatt called the marks “the kind of slicing wounds that you would expect from a white shark.” He described an attack as a “tremendous powerful rush followed by a powerful bite.”
“That is just typical of the white shark feeding behavior. They normally feed on seals and attack from below and ... bite, then pull away and wait for the seal or other marine mammal to bleed to death.”
Solana Beach Deputy Fire Chief Dismas Abelman said Martin was pulled out of the water by fellow triathlon club members and placed in the back of a lifeguard truck. A helicopter was called, but Martin was pronounced dead at the lifeguard station.
“It just doesn't happen. A shark attack is unheard of (here),” Abelman said.
Miller said witnesses told lifeguards that a “big gray shark” attacked Martin.
Martin was swimming with about 10 others from the triathlon group, heading north from Fletcher Cove, near Tide Park, when the attack occurred. All the swimmers were wearing wet suits.
Miller said two of the swimmers were about 20 yards ahead of Martin when he was attacked. They heard him screaming, went to his aid and brought him to shore, he said.
The swimmers who were with Martin were taken to a community center to be debriefed, officials said. They declined to speak to reporters.
Officials immediately closed beaches in Solana Beach, Del Mar and Encinitas after the attack. Later, several state beaches were closed through Sunday, including Tide Park, Seaside, North Cardiff, San Elijo, and South Carlsbad. Carlsbad State Beach north of Palomar Airport Road was open.
Following the attack, lifeguards in two vehicles were patrolling Solana Beach's 1.7 miles of coastline and a sheriff's helicopter flew overhead, telling people to stay out of the water. The helicopter would fly over the area until 6 p.m. Friday, then resume at 8 a.m. Saturday, authorities said.
A Coast Guard helicopter also was sent to the area. The crew helped clear the area and spotters were trying to “spot the culprit,” said Coast Guard Petty Officer Clinton Dotson.
Miller said that if swimmers ignore the ban, sheriff's deputies would be called to enforce the order.
Beach closure signs also were posted.
“This is a tragic situation for Solana Beach and the surrounding areas and the county of San Diego,” said Solana Beach Mayor Joe Kellejian.
Kellejian urged the public to listen to safety officers and stay out of the water, but added, “We don't want people to panic.”
In Encinitas, extra lifeguards were called in and they cleared the water as a precaution, warning surfers face-to-face not to go out.
“We're keeping the water clear and informing people that they shouldn't be in the water,” lifeguard Chapman said. “A couple people have chosen to go in the water and surf at Swami's and at Beacons, against our advice.”
Later in the day, more surfers disregarded warnings and were seen in the water.
So far, no San Diego beaches have been closed, San Diego lifeguard Lt. Nick Lerma said. “It happened a significant distance from us, so we're sort of status quo,” Lerma said.
Rosenblatt, the Scripps scientist, said there isn't a resident population of white sharks off San Diego County, but female sharks come from the north to give birth. White sharks swim great distances and have been known to be tagged in Monterey in northern California and then turn up in Hawaii, he said.
“The chances of finding this particular shark are very slim,” Rosenblatt said.
Still, as Chapman said, “It's better to stay out of the water and give it time.”
Chapman said a baby white shark was found at a nearby lagoon two weeks ago.
The ocean temperatures off the coast are in the upper 50s, fairly typical for this time of year, according to Jim Purpura, meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service office in Rancho Bernardo.
Steven Elbogen, who has been surfing off Ocean Beach for 33 years, said the fatality will not keep him out of the water.
“First off, I'm sorry to see someone perish,” he said. “But I hope it scares everyone out of the water and I'll be surfing alone.”
Remarking that it's been 14 years since a person was attacked by a shark in San Diego County, Elbogen added, 'That's 14 years and 10,000,000 waves later. Those are good odds. I'll take 'em.' Volker Hoehne, president of the San Diego Free Divers, said there have been increased shark sightings off San Diego County. He said members of the club reported seeing two great whites under water off Oceanside last week.
According to Hoehne, there was an increase in shark attacks on seals last summer. He said one diver photographed a shark eating the remains of a seal near Children's Pool off La Jolla. “We don't report these things because they happen so often,' Hoehne said. Hoehne said he dives about twice a week to spearfish and that he's not afraid of shark attacks. But after hearing about Friday's attack, he plans to move his diving to Orange County. “I'm not going in the water (here) for a little while. (Great whites), they're mammal eaters.”
The last time a shark was confirmed to have bitten someone in San Diego County waters was in 1994.
The victim, 25-year-old Michelle Von Emster, went for a nighttime swim by herself in Ocean Beach April 14.
Her body, with her leg severed at midthigh, was found the following day 2 miles to the south, near the surfing area known as Garbage Reef.
Local investigators determined she drowned after being bitten by a great white shark, but state Fish & Game investigators said it couldn't be determined which happened first.
Homicide detectives were called in after friends of the victim raised questions of foul play.
Friends said the woman – whose body was found unclothed – would not swim alone or without a swimsuit. They also wondered why Von Emster's purse was found on the bluffs above the beach, and why her clothing was never found.
Reports of a great white shark at the same spot raised alarms in 2003, two years after great white shark sightings caused a scare at the venerable surf spot at San Onofre State Beach. No one was harmed either time.
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