April 22, 2024 #1 Local News, Information and Event Source for the Century City/Westwood areas.

Shark Tales

January 26, 1989. Tamara McAllister and her boyfriend, Roy Jeffrey Stoddard, were kayaking off the coast of Malibu training for a triathlon when suddenly, something struck McAllister’s kayak, punching a hole in it. Two days later, a fishing boat found the body of the 24-year-old woman floating face down. A large section of her thigh was missing. Stoddard was never found.

Ralph Collier has spent the past 45 years studying the behavior of great white sharks on the Pacific Coast and in other shark-populated areas of the world. His book, Shark Attacks of the Twentieth Century – from the Pacific Coast of North America, describes what happened to McAllister and Stoddard that day. The Ventura County Coroner called Collier to examine the woman’s body. His conclusion: An attack by a 16-foot great white shark.

Last month, Collier was called to examine another body, the one of Dr. David Martin, a 66 year old triathlete bitten by a 15 to 16-foot long shark. “Dr. Martin was bitten multiple times. There was no loss of tissue but several bite marks that led him to bleed to death,†Collier said.

Now that summer is here, thousands of locals and tourists will come to enjoy the beach and join the surfers and swimmers who are year-round beach goers. What are the risks that a tragedy like Dr. Martin’s can happen again?

Collier says it all depends on what he calls “contact hours,†the number of hours spent in the water times the number of people in the water. “If there’s one shark at a beach and one person in the water, chances are really slim that they will ever get in contact. But if there’s one shark in an area where there are thousands of people in the water, there may be a chance that someone will encounter that shark,†Collier said.

In the Southern California waters, shark sightings are frequent but actual attacks are rare. Collier explains that the Pacific Coast, like South Africa or New-Zealand, is one of the most shark-populated areas of the world, particularly by great whites which are a protected species in California.
One reason sharks are present in our area is to take advantage of spawning grunion. Our waters are a “pupping ground†for great whites – an area where sharks reproduce and give birth. Juvenile sharks feed on the large population of grunion – a sardine-like fish – that comes to our beaches to lay eggs.

The large number of great whites on our coast line doesn’t make it dangerous for us to get in the water. Collier affirms that we have better odds at winning the lottery than to ever get attacked by a shark. There is a better chance of getting struck by lightning on a clear day.

“There are five or six people who die in car accidents in L.A. County every day. They never make the headlines. Neither did the six surfers who died practicing their sport last year. But when a shark attacks, it’s all over the news,†Collier says.

This has to do with the feeling of fear, fed by movies such as the popular Stephen Spielberg movie, Jaws. But fear, Collier explains, is often the result of lack of knowledge.

Why Sharks Attack

There are three reasons why a shark would attack or interact with a person or inanimate object.

• Predatory

We are not naturally prey for great whites. They have an extremely acute sense of sight and according to Collier, it would be unlikely for them to mistake us for a seal. We don’t resemble a pinniped because of our long arms and legs. Surf boards and kayaks float on the surface, seals do not. If a person or object were to be attacked as prey, it would be a case of mistaken identity. This happens only when the shark is in feeding mode.

• Investigation

Sharks may come “check us out†and swim by or bump into us to investigate what they’re dealing with. They may take a nibble but they will not try to harm us intentionally.

• Displacement

Although sharks have not been proven to be territorial, there is evidence that they will sometimes bump into an object or person, and occasionally bite them, to get them out of their way or territory. They can consider us a threat and may want us to go away.
Sharks do not consider us food and consumption of humans has only been heard of in a couple of cases. The few reported fatal cases are almost always the result of blood loss.

How to Prevent
an Attack

  1. If coming face to face with a shark, don’t panic and “do not act wildly agitated with large movements trying to reach the shore,†Collier says, “It might trigger a response.†Instead, he advises to stay calm and swim slowly back to the beach.
  2. Do not punch the shark; it may feel threatened and try to retaliate.
  3. Don’t wear brightly colored bathing suits or shiny jewelry; a shark may mistake that for colorful fish or sun reflection on fish scales.
  4. Stay near other individuals, don’t swim by yourself.
  5. Don’t go in the water at night. Some sharks have a diurnal pattern and will move close to shore to feed.
  6. Check the grunion spawning schedule on the California Department of fish and game website (www.dfg.ca.goc) and avoid going in the water during grunion spawn.

I Survived a Shark Attack…

Thomas Larkin III, 26, Westwood
Investment manager
March 2008

“I don’t usually go surfing at Huntington Beach, but I was visiting some friends. There was a strong current that day and I was waiting for one last wave before going back to the beach, when suddenly I felt a jolt down on the tail of my board, immediately followed by a violent bubble cascade, which sunk the board down. Within a second or two my board and I were propelled forward. I had never worried about sharks before, but when I got back to the beach, I noticed the large bite mark on my board. Obviously the shark did not like the taste of carbon fiber. I warned the lifeguards but they didn’t take me seriously.†The shark was an estimated 15 feet.

Katina Zinner, 46, Santa Monica
Film editor/ painter
June 2007

“I was swimming off Will Rogers State Beach, about 20 yards from shore, directly in front of the Bel-Air Bay Club. Suddenly, I felt a strong bite sensation on my left hand and had to yank it out of [the shark’s] mouth. I wasn’t in pain as much as I was in shock. I went back to the beach but I was hyperventilating, I couldn’t breathe. There were puncture marks on my hand and I was missing my ring. It was a bad idea to wear jewelry while swimming that day. I reported the incident to the staff at the Bel-Air Bay Club and then proceeded to do the same with the lifeguards who bandaged me. They did not do anything about it. They try to downplay incidents like mine for tourism.†The shark was an estimated 5 feet.

Vic Calandra, 48, Malibu
Investment banker
July 2007

“I was in a paddle race from Zuma Beach to Malibu when I heard the sound of something cutting through the water and saw a fin coming out behind me. The shark nudged my board from behind. I slapped at the water with my paddle just as it turned on its side and I continued slapping at it. It seemed to be very aggressive and agitated. I continued to maneuver my board for several minutes trying to avoid being struck by the shark and managed to attract the attention of another racer who paddled up and ran his board into the shark. The shark made at least six aggressive strikes at my board during our mutual stand against it. We saw a fishing boat about 150-200 yards away and headed for it to call Baywatch for assistance. I continued to warn other participants and finished the race, but when I got back to the beach I just sat down and was completely in shock.†The shark was an estimated 14 feet.

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