Shark season has surfers keeping an eye out
By BOB NORBERG
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Published: Thursday, January 8, 2009 at 8:25 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 8, 2009 at 8:27 a.m.
Being bitten by a great white shark six years ago has not kept Michael Casey out of the water, nor did seeing a shark again while surfing this past New Year’s Day near the Bodega Dunes Campground.
Instead of giving up for the day, Casey went a quarter mile up the beach and went back in the water.
“I saw other guys out,” said Casey, a Santa Rosa assistant city attorney. “I just felt more comfortable, it was uneventful, I caught some good waves and it was a good way to start the new year.”
Casey’s encounter was not unusual. This is the time of the year when great white sharks can be seen cruising the North Coast looking for food.
“The whole area up here is part of the central area for great white sharks in the fall,” said Ben Vanden Heuvel, a Sonoma Coast State Beach ranger stationed at Salmon Creek. “They usually show up in late summer, early fall, they return here and feed. It is not uncommon to have encounters or sightings.”
Supervising park ranger Damien Jones said that others at Salmon Creek reported seeing a shark they believed to be about six feet long.
On Dec. 20, kayaker Tony Johnson of Sacramento was run into by a shark in the ocean at Dillon Beach.
“It didn’t just bump, it hit my paddle very hard from behind,” Johnson said. “It was surprising, the speed of this animal and how fast it was in front of me 15 feet away. It is huge, but it can travel fast.”
Johnson, who had been kayaking for 15 years, was still shaken from the encounter, even recounting it a week after the attack.
“I was never concerned about sharks, ever,” said Johnson, a member of the Bay Area Sea Kayakers. “To me I thought it would be a blessing or a good luck charm if I saw one from the safety of my boat. But nothing prepared me for this, it was so massive and fast.”
Sightings of great white sharks, which can grow to 20 feet in length, often result in beach closures.
“We post warnings saying a shark has been sighted, but people can enter the water at their own risk,” Vanden Heuvel said. “People who use the water out here know and you are entering into another food chain, if you will.”
In September, there were a pair of sightings days apart at Stinson Beach in Marin County, which caused that beach to be closed to swimmers and surfers for five days.
Attacks are rare and seldom fatal.
Guerneville surfer Royce Fraley was bitten in December 2006 at Dillon Beach, but the bites were not serious.
In September 2005, Megan Halavais was bitten in the leg by a great white shark in South Salmon Creek.
It was the same place where Casey, a body-boarder, was bitten in the leg in November 2002, and only a quarter of a mile where he saw the shark’s dorsal fin at about 7:30 a.m. on New Year’s Day.
“I saw that thing, it was 30 yards away from me,” Casey said. “I had gotten outside, just outside where the waves were breaking ... there was this nice glassy area and then I saw this dorsal fin, then I saw it roll, it just flopped over, it exposed its side fin.”
Casey said he recognized what it was immediately.
“My heart was pounding, I stopped dead in my tracks, I just turned in the opposite direction,” Casey said.
Casey said that he and a fellow surfer left the water, but then drove to North Salmon Creek, where several other surfers were in the water and let them know what Casey has seen.
“I just wanted to get some surfing in,” Casey said. “I can’t explain it.”
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