Great White Shark Attacks in California

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Between 1950, when modern records began, and 2022, a total of 15 people have died in California from shark attacks, most of them by great whites, according to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. Every year millions of people go into the water to surf, swim, paddle board, spear fish and snorkel. Chris Lowe, a marine biologist with California State Long Beach told the San Jose Mercury News that white sharks off California regularly swim hundreds of miles across the Pacific Ocean. [Source: Paul Rogers, San Jose Mercury News, July 19, 2022]

Along the central California coast there have been more reported shark attacks than anywhere else in the world. As of 2004 there had been 106 shark attacks on humans in the last 50 or so years on the California coast, 10 of them fatal, according to the Department of Fish and Game. Still attacks have remained relatively rare even as the population of swimmers, divers and surfers sharing the waters has soared. Authorities periodically issue warnings when great white sharks are sighted up and down the California coast.

Great whites are responsible for more serious shark attacks than any other species. Between 1876 and 2001, they were involved in 254 recorded unprovoked attacks, 67 of them fatal, and about a third of them in waters off California. Most of the victims were surfers or divers who were bitten in the leg or arm and had one or more arteries severed and bled to death. There might have been a lot more attacks were it not for the fact that great whites hunt in relatively cold water and rarely encounter humans.

There have been more than a dozen great white attacks since 1952 in Marin County and 50 or so in the Red Triangle, which stretches from southern Monterey County to the Farallon Islands to Tomales Bay near San Francisco. The zone has the highest concentration of shark attacks in the world because of its large seal and sea lion populations and the large number of beachgoers, boaters and anglers.

Websites and Resources: Shark Foundation ; International Shark Attack Files, Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida ; Tracking Sharks, which records all global shark attacks; Animal Diversity Web (ADW); National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); Fishbase ; Encyclopedia of Life ; Smithsonian Oceans Portal

Great White Shark Attacks in California in the 1990s

So-called Red Triange where many great white shark attacks in California have occurred

Describing a 1990 attack while he was spear fishing at Russian Gulch Beach 50 miles north of San Francisco, Rodney Orr said he had just kicked away from his fiberglass paddleboard when suddenly he said he felt as if he had been struck by a truck. "I was ready to turn and make a dive, then the lights went out. All I heard was a big crunch, kind of like a garage door closing." Orr was out for a few seconds. When he came too he was swimming in his own blood with his head inside the sharks mouth, with teeth imbedded on his nose, cheek and neck. "The shark had me out of the water. And the sea was flying by." [Source: Glen Martin, Discover magazine, June 1999]

Orr beat against the shark with spear gun and free hand to no avail. Just when he thought he was a deadman, about 10 seconds after the attack began, the shark let go. "All of a sudden, I just popped out the sharks mouth," Orr said. "He just let me go. When he went back down I saw part of so head, and it was wider than my shoulders." Orr managed to get back to his paddle board, with a trail of blood behind him, and swim to shore without passing out. A passing patrolman had summoned a helicopter. His nose, cheek and cheekbones were punctured and a row of holes ran up to his skull but he ended up in more or less in one piece, with almost 80 stitches.

In December 1994, a sea urchin diver was attacked and killed off San Miguel Island near Santa Barbara. He was taking off his equipment and preparing to get out of the water when a great white bit off his leg. He died a few hours after he was pulled on the deck. His last words were "A great white bit me."

In August 1997, twenty-nine-year-old Scott Yerby was attacked by a great white while surfing off Clam beach near Eureka California. "This thing jumped me — it had enough force to lift me right out of the water," he told Time. "I could see my femur, there was blood in the water — I knew then it was pretty serious. Yerby escaped from the shark after hitting it in the nose and got back on his board and paddled to the shore. By the time an ambulance brought him to a hospital he had lost half his blood and was near death.

Great White Shark Attacks in California in the 2000s

In August 2003, a 50-year-old college instructor, Deborah Franzman taking a morning swim, 75 yards offshore alongside a group of seals, bled to death after she was attacked by a great white shark 15 to 18 feet long Avila Beach in San Luis Obispo County. Witnesses reported seeing a large fin as Franzman screamed for help. Lifeguards pulled Franzman to shore, where she died. Bite marks on her legs were consistent with those seen in previous attacks by great white sharks, San Luis Obispo County sheriff's Lt. Martin Basti said. Shark expert Robert Lea, present during the autopsy, estimated the fish was between 15 and 18 feet long. "That's incredibly large," Basti said. Franzman likely bled to death after her left femoral artery was severed in the attack, Basti said. Franzman's death marked the 10th fatal shark attack in California since 1952 and the first death since 1994, according to state Fish and Game records. Avila Beach, located about 200 miles northwest of Los Angeles, was closed to swimmers after the attack.

Franzman swam in the area by the Avila Beach Pier several times a week, friend Andrea Sanders said through tears. "She loved it. She would talk about how fun it was to swim and play with the seals," Sanders said. Franzman was wearing a full wetsuit and swim fins when she was attacked, Lea said. The state marine biologist said the shark may have mistaken Franzman, silhouetted against the surface, for a seal. The sharks are ambush predators and attack their prey from below.

In October 2005, Megan Halavais was surfing off Bodega Bay, California, the world’s top place for great white shark attacks when a great white, estimated to be between five and six meters long, did an exploratory big other rear legs and surf board but didn’t bite hard and she wasn’t insured. However the leash of her surfboard got caught in the sharks — mouth and she found herself grabbing in the two-ton shark’s dorsal fin. The shark swung its tail back and forth and snapped the leash and slung Halavais aside who was picked up by her boyfriend, another surfer who had paddled out to help her.

In November 2005, a 25-year-old man survived a close call with a shark at Half Moon Bay. Tim West said he was surfing Mavericks, the world-famous surf break off this city about 30 miles south of San Francisco, when the shark came up directly beneath him and knocked him about 2 feet into the air. He was unharmed but the attack left a tooth in his board. "It makes you think twice, but it's going to happen, it's shark season," said another local surfer. Experts were surprised there were not more shark attacks in the area because great whites are usually close to shore that time of year searching for food.

In April 2008, David Martins, a 66-year-old amateur triathlete, was killed in attack by a great white shark north of San Diego. The great white shark bit his legs about 150 yards off of a San Diego County beach. After that attack the beaches in the San Diego were relatively quiet.

In northern California there were three attacks, none fatal, on surfers along the Sonoma County coast in 2000s. 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 (See Above). And Michael Casey of Santa Rosa, a body-boarder, was bitten in the leg in November 2002 at Salmon Creek.

Surfers Attacked by Great White Sharks at Stinson Beach Near San Francisco

In August 1998, a 16-year-old boogie- boarder attacked by a great white shark survived by grabbing the beast's gill slit and pulling until it released his thigh, witnesses said. He received stitches for a foot-long gash in his thigh. Witnesses said that the shark was about 10 feet long. Jonathon Kathrein was bitten by the shark as he rode the waves about 50 yards off Stinson Beach. The popular park just north of San Francisco also happens to be a gathering place for seals and sea lions, favorite prey for great white sharks. "His friends heard him screaming. They turned around to see him being pulled under," said Chris Powell, a spokeswoman for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. [Source: CNN]

Shark experts said that the behavior of the shark that attacked Kathrein, feeding so close to the surface, indicates that it was probably a great white. After fighting off the shark, the boy managed to climb back onto his board before friends and lifeguards pulled him to shore. Witnesses said he was in shock. "He was very brave," said Marge Kathrein, who talked with her son by phone before surgery. "He said, 'I'm OK, Mom, but my leg really hurts." It took Katherein a year to recover from the bite, which extended from his right knee to his hip, and he still does not have full power in that leg. "I'd like to be able to surf more, but it's been harder to get into the water," Kathrein, said four years later "I've realized the reality of sharks in the area. It's pretty serious."

In 2002, a four to fiver meter (12- to 14-foot) shark leapt out of the water near Stinson Beach and grabbed a screaming surfer in its jaws as fellow surfers watched in disbelief. Twenty-four-year-old Lee Fontan, needed 100 stitches to close four bite wounds after the attack. "We were out there kidding around, talking, waiting for the next wave. Then all of a sudden we heard a scream," said John Gilbert, 33, another surfer."I looked over and this guy was about three or four feet out of the water in the shark's mouth. You could see its teeth, its gums. Its eyes were shut. Its gills were wide open, like shutters. The whole dorsal fin on its back was out of the water." [Source: Peter Fimrite, Kelly St. John, Michael Cabanatuan, San Francisco Chronicle

When the shark crashed back into the ocean, it released the surfer and disappeared. Fontan was left clinging dearly to his board. A dozen surfers pulled him to shore, then tended to his wounds including an 8-inch gash in his left thigh and three tooth holes below his ribs. "You could see all the way to the bone," said Paul Fontan, the surfer's father, who was on his way to the beach when the attack happened. "It made me sick."

Fontan was taken by helicopter to Eden Hospital in Castro Valley, where he underwent 90 minutes of surgery to repair skin and deep tissue wounds to his left leg and left shoulder and arm. Dr. Scott Snyder, a trauma surgeon, said he found no whole teeth inside the wounds but removed some white matter that will be tested. Fontan was in good spirits, even joking with hospital workers, Snyder said, recounting the surfer's response when he asked what the shark looked like. "He said it was a large white shark with large white teeth," Snyder said.

The attack took place as a group of 12 to 15 surfers sat on their boards about 50 yards offshore from the Seadrift residential enclave, near the channel between Stinson Beach from Bolinas Lagoon. The surfers were enjoying a south swell, breaking right toward Bolinas Beach, making for excellent surfing. Fontan, who had been riding the waves for a couple of hours, was about 10 feet farther out to sea than anyone else, Gilbert said.

The attack, Gilbert said, was surreal in its swiftness, more unbelievable than horrifying. "You see sharks on TV, where seals are attacked," he said. "It was just like that, straight up like a missile. The shark hit him and launched him out of the water." Witnesses said the shark thrashed wildly as it clamped down. But the surfer, described by relatives as athletic and muscular, fought back, striking the shark soundly at least once on the snout, according to witnesses. The shark left a huge arching bite mark -- about 13 inches wide -- in Fontan's 6-foot yellow surfboard. On the bottom of the board, Fontan had affixed a locally popular "no sharks" decal depicting an open-jawed shark beneath a circle and a slash. "Obviously, the sticker didn't work," said his father. "Or maybe it made him mad."

Most likely, the shark mistook Fontan, who was wearing a wetsuit, for a seal or sea lion, said John McCosker, one of the world's foremost shark experts and a senior scientist at the California Academy of Sciences, in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. McCosker said that the attack sounded like the work of a great white shark. Afterwards the beach where the attack took places was closed for five days. The same day as the attack 16 surfers were riding the waves at sunset near the scene of the attack, outside park boundaries. "Denial is a very good thing," said one surfer who didn't want to give her name. "Sharks are always here, but the waves aren't."

Great White Shark Decapitates Abalone Diver on the Mendocino Coast

In August 2004, 50-year-old Randy Fry was decapitated while diving for abalone on the Mendociono coast just north of Fort Bragg. California. Cliff Zimmerman was only three feet away from Fry, his old friend and diving partner, when he heard a noise and felt the pressure of something big moving by. “It was a shark, and it came out of nowhere, it came fast, and it killed him,” Zimmerman said. Fry’s wet suit was found a day later. [Source: Carl Nolte, San Francisco Chronicle, August 17, 2004]

"I heard a noise, like 'whoosh,' like a submarine, like a boat going by fast. It was a shark,'' Zimmerman said."I knew it was a shark. It almost brushed me. I saw its dorsal fin. I don't know what kind it was; all I know is, it was big. Big. It was big enough to kill.'' The shark struck Fry, and suddenly, Zimmerman said, the water was filled with blood. "It was massive,'' Zimmerman said. "I was yelling and yelling, but I knew from the amount of blood that it was fatal. He came in for the kill.'' It was over in an instant; no one saw the shark again, and no one saw Fry again.

All this happened in the afternoon, in water 15 feet to 20 feet deep, just 150 feet from the shore in a place noted for abalone beds. "It was terrible,'' Zimmerman said. "I almost had a heart attack myself. It could have been me.'' It was near Kibesillah Rock on the Mendocino coast just north of Fort Bragg. The sea was calm, and the weather was sunny and beautiful. Perfect for prying abalone off the rocks.

No one had ever seen a shark there before, and the Coast Guard said there had been no reports of shark attacks in that area. "I never heard of a fatality on this coast,'' said Zimmerman, who lives in Fort Bragg. "A nibble, maybe, a nip, but never nothing like this. Never a full-bore attack.''

Zimmerman said that Fry always had a hunch about a shark. "Randy and I talked about it many times,'' Zimmerman said. "He said, 'I think a shark will get me sometime.' " It's common banter among abalone divers. Zimmerman and Fry were old friends and old diving partners. They dived together 30 years, and they swam side by side. They understood each other well and had taken precautions, Zimmerman said. They dived off a 28-foot fishing boat and had someone watching for anything in the water, like sharks. They also kept an eye out for seals and sea lions, which are often prey for sharks. They saw nothing. They were free diving, using wet suits, masks, fins and snorkels, but no air tanks.

Great White Shark Attacks in California in the 2010s

In June 2016, 52-year-old fitness instructor Maria Korcsmaros was swimming just off the Southern California coast at Corona del Mar, near Santa Ana, preparing for a triathlon when something big gripped her side and then let go. Associated Press reported: “She knew immediately she had been bit. “The normally choppy water around her grew still and turned red with blood, Korcsmaros, a , recalled lifeguards telling her later after they pulled her from the ocean and whisked her to safety. "I instantly knew it was some kind of fish, and probably a big fish, like a shark," she told reporters from her bed at Orange County Global Medical Center in Santa Ana on Tuesday, nine days after the attack "It felt like a big bite and then it let go. And then I was like, 'OK, I've got to get out of here,' " she said. [Source: Amy Taxin and Christopher Weber, Associated Press, June 8, 2016]

Christopher G. Lowe, director of the Shark Lab at California State University, Long Beach. swabbed bite marks on Korcsmaros' mangled wet suit to try to learn more about the shark. Ralph Collier of the Shark Research Committee said the shark was likely nine or 10 feet long. Korcsmaros, a mother of three, said she was lucky lifeguards were in a boat nearby. After the bite, she treaded water, raised her arms and hollered for help.They put her in the boat and had her apply pressure to her arm to try to stop the bleeding. She said it was hard to breathe, but she was awake all the way to the hospital, where she had surgery. She suffered injuries to her arm and side, including two fractured ribs.

In September 2011, a shark attack at a popular Humboldt Bay surfing spot of California’s North Coast left a surfer shaken but unhurt and appeared to underscore the importance of being vigilant of sharks at particularly times of the year. The Press Democrat reported: Benjie Rose was sitting on his board 40 meters off of Samoa Beach at a spot called Power Poles 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 was badly damaged but he escaped with only bloody nose, Rose managed to paddle into a wave and rode it onto the shore, where his board broke in half and he discovered teeth marks. [Source: Bob Norberg, Press Democrat, September 15, 2011]

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 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.”

Great White Shark Attacks in California in the 2020s

In May 2020, surfer Ben Kelly, 26, of Santa Cruz, was killed in a shark attack about 100 meters off Manresa State Beach in Aptos. Kelly bled to death after a great white shark bit him behind his right knee, striking an artery. An investigation by state wildlife biologists found the shark was at least three meters (10 feet long).

In June 2021, a 39-year-old surfer was seriously injured by a great white shark about 32 kilometers (20 miles) south of San Francisco. NBC News reported: The victim was in the water in the morning at Gray Whale Cove State Beach in San Mateo County when the shark attacked him, the sheriff's office said. “"He was out surfing and a great white came up and just took one bite out of him and released him," Brian Ham of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection told NBC Bay Area. The TV station reported the surfer was bitten in the back of his right thigh and "was treated with advanced life support measures" at the scene. [Source: Dennis Romero and Jay Varela, NBC News, June 28, 2021, 1:46 AM

“Thomas Masotta said he was fishing on the shoreline when he spotted the wetsuit-clad victim emerge from the water and walk toward him. "He called out to me, then collapsed," Masotta said. "He was rolling around on the ground and said he wasn’t in a lot of pain but was worried that he was losing a lot of blood." The witness said he tried to call 911 but had difficulties reaching operators because the beach is on a relatively remote stretch of coastline. "So we tied off his wound with straps from my backpack and elevated his leg," Masotta continued. "Then I ran up to the road and was able to make another call to 911." “The victim was taken to San Francisco General Hospital's trauma facility, where he was stabilized in serious condition, authorities told NBC Bay Area.Sheriff's officials described the shark as measuring 6 to 8 feet. The beach was subsequently closed.

In June 2021, Nemanja Spasojevic was was bitten by a great white shark not far from San Francisco. People magazine reported: Spasojevic had swam along the beaches of San Mateo County on numerous occasions without incident. He was searching for crabs at Gray Whale Cove State Beach when he felt a sharp pain and then a push. "It felt very quick, almost like a mosquito bite," he described to KPIX. When he looked down, he was face-to-face with the shark that had just sunk its teeth into his leg. Spasojevic made his way back to the beach where, limping and bleeding through his wet suit, he called out to a nearby fisherman."I yelled at the fisherman, 'Hey! Help! Shark attack!'" he told the news station. "It took some time to get his attention, but once he saw me I just kind of dropped onto the sand." Luckily, Spasojevic did not suffer serious injuries, though the bite did leave 10 puncture wounds in his leg. He also still has a slight limp from the incident. [Source: Katie Campione, People, June 30, 2021]

“While the situation was scary, Spasojevic told KNTV that he felt fortunate the shark wasn't as aggressive as it could have been. "He didn't thrash my leg. Gentle bite, let go," he said, adding: 'If it was not gentle, I wouldn't be here standing." After being treated at San Francisco General Hospital, Spasojevic was able to go home to recover. "I['m] probably the luckiest guy in the world, to get hit by a great white and walk out of the hospital the same day," he said. David Ebert, program director for the Pacific Shark Research Center, told KNTV that sharks are not in the water searching for humans to eat, and that in this case, the creature likely mistook the man for a seal.

Great White Shark Attacks in the Monterey Area

In October 2011, 29-year-old Eric Tarantino was attacked by a great white shark while paddling for a wave in the early morning light at Marina State Beach just north of Monterey. According to Shark Sagas: Then something hit him like a truck. “I didn’t see it, I didn’t hear it, I didn’t have any idea. That first hit, it’s so powerful. It’s disorienting, but you know what’s happening.” The shark, estimated at five to five and half meters (16 to 17 feet) in length, penetrated Tarantino’s red surfboard with the sharp teeth of its lower jaw while the serrated teeth of its upper jaw closed on his shoulder and head, striking a glancing blow to his face and neck, then settling on his arm. It then dove down, deep and fast, carrying him toward the bottom. Tarantino opened his eyes. “It was quiet, and I couldn’t hear anything. I was just conscious of myself being pulled. I didn’t see a single fin on it. I didn’t see its white underbelly. All I saw, when I saw it, was gray, like a wall.” [Source: Shark Sagas, June 6, 2013]

Tarantino kicked at the shark. The sides felt like cement. It either released him, or his arm popped free. He found his board and paddled ashore with his surfing partner, Brandon McKibben, his arm pumping blood into the water. “I knew I was hurt, but I couldn’t feel any pain.” He thought if he could just get to the parking lot, he’d be OK. He noticed suddenly a lot of people were on the beach. “They helped me so much,” he said. One man who applied a tourniquet to his arm knew what to do because he had survived a great white shark attack himself. Tarantino was flown to a hospital where his wounds were stitched. The bite had missed the carotid artery in his neck by a millimeter. If it had been nicked, he could have bled to death within minutes...He eventually returned to surfing, although he doesn’t go in the early morning or evening, and he waits until there are a few other people in the water. He has not gone back to Marina State Beach, which is known for having great whites.

In June 2022, 62-year-old Steve Bruemmer was attacked and nearly killed by a great white shark — with “a minimum estimated length” of 4½ to 5 meters (14 to 15 feet) — while swimming about 150 meters off Lovers Point at Pacific Grove near Monterey. The San Jose Mercury News reported: Bruemmer, who swims regularly in the ocean with a swimming club, was enjoying the day when all of a sudden his life changed. “I was just gliding through the water looking at the sea grasses and the sea stars,” he said.“I was about 150 yards from being done near the beach when — just wham! I don’t even know exactly what happened, but, well it turns out I was bit ferociously by a shark right across my thighs and my abdomen.” [Source: Paul Rogers, San Jose Mercury News, July 19, 2022]

“It grabbed me and pulled me up, and then dove me down in the water,” added Bruemmer. “Then of course it spit me out. I’m not a seal. It’s looking for a seal. We’re not their food. It spit me out and it was looking at me, right next to me. I thought it could bite me again so I pushed it with my hand and I kicked at it with my foot and it left. I got myself back to the surface and started yelling for help.” The size of the shark was based on the size of the bite marks on Bruemmer’s wetsuit, along with photos of his injuries, and a description he provided in conversations.

Moments after Bruemmer was attacked, severely bleeding and yelling for help, several people nearby rushed to his rescue, including Aimee Johns, a nurse from Folsom, and her husband, Paul Bandy, an off-duty Sacramento police officer, who were paddle boarding in the area as part of a trip to celebrate their wedding anniversary. A nearby surfer, Heath Braddock, also came to help. They put Bruemmer on two boards, brought him to the beach, and applied tourniquets. He was rushed to the hospital, where he had a two-hour operation that used 28 units of blood. He was lucky the bites had not severed an artery, which would have been fatal, doctors said.

About two months later there was another attack occurred at Lovers Point. Witnesses told KSBW that a paddle boarder and his dog were in the water around 11:30am when a shark bit the paddle board several times. Both the dog and the owner made it safely out of the water. Those watching the waters said the victim remained calm and was able to paddle back to shore. “He was offshore about 500 meters, had German shepherds on the board, local guys, paddling out, next thing you knew, he had a visitor,” said Jim Pagnella, incident commander. [Source: NBC Bay Area staff, August 10, 2022]

Great White Shark Attacks Around Vandenberg Air Force Base

In October 2012, 39-year-old surfer Francisco Javier Solorio Jr. was fatally attacked by a shark in the waters off Sur Beach at Vandenberg Air Force Base, about 90 kilometers (60 miles) northwest of Santa Barbara, California. Experts suspect Solorio was killed by a 5½-meter (15- to 16-foot great white shark. He was bitten in the upper torso, and died at the scene. NBC4 News reported: Nearly two years to the day after a deadly shark attack near Lompoc, another surfer was killed. A friend pulled the victim onto the sand and started CPR while another surfer called 911. The victim was pronounced dead at the beach, which is on Vandenberg Air Force Base (map). [Source: NBC4 News, October 23, 2012]

An initial investigation said he was "bitten by the shark in the upper torso area," according to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department. Solorio's fatal injury appeared to be a shark bite, and his surf board had "visible signs of bite marks," according to Lt. Erik Raney of the sheriff’s department's Santa Maria station. The sheriff's department did not have details regarding the type of shark involved in the attack but had contacted an expert to confirm the injury, the Vandenberg release stated. The Vandenberg Air Force Base Fire Department responded to the 911 call at about 11 a.m. Three other males were at the beach at the time of the attack, the sheriff's department said. "We've had shark sightings up and down the Santa Barbara coastline pretty frequently recently," Raney told the Associated Press. "When we do see attacks like this, they typically occur at more remote sites. Places where there aren't a lot of people at the beach. Why that is, we're not sure ... but we suspect that sharks avoid areas where there are high densities of people," said Dr. Christopher Lowe, of Cal State Long Beach.

In October 2010, a 19-year-old bodyboard surfer was killed by what appeared to a great white shark near Santa Barbara, local officials said. The man was boogie-boarding with a friend off Surf Beach near Vandenberg Air Force Base when a shark 14 to 20 feet long pulled him underwater, the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department said in a statement. The man died from wounds to a leg. reported: “Matthew Garcia was surfing 2 feet from his friend, 19-year-old Lucas Ransom, when the shark attacked, he said. The whole incident lasted seconds. "When the shark hit him, he just said, 'Help me, dude!' He knew what was going on," Garcia told The Associated Press. "It was really fast. You just saw a red wave and this water is blue — as blue as it could ever be — and it was just red, the whole wave." [Source:, AP. October 22, 2010]

As huge waves broke over his head, Garcia tried to find his friend in the surf but couldn't. He decided to get help, but turned around again as he was swimming to shore and saw Ransom's red bodyboard pop up. Garcia swam to his friend and did chest compressions as he brought him to shore. Ransom already appeared dead and his leg was mauled, he said. "He was just floating in the water. I flipped him over on his back and underhooked his arms. I was pressing on his chest and doing rescue breathing in the water," Garcia said. "He was just kind of lifeless, just dead weight." The University of California, Santa Barbara, junior had a severe wound to his left leg and died a short time later at Surf Beach, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department said in a statement. The beach, 130 miles northwest of Los Angeles, is on the property of Vandenberg Air Force Base but is open to the public. Sheriff's deputies patrolled the coastline to search for Ransom's missing leg but were only able to recover the boogie board, which had a 1-foot segment on the side bitten off.

The ocean was calm and beautiful before the attack, with large wave sets that the friends had been tracking all week as they moved down the West Coast from Alaska, Garcia said. The shark, which breached the water on its side, appeared about 18 feet long, Garcia said. "There was no sign, there was nothing. It was all very fast, very stealth," said Garcia. The last shark attack on Surf Beach was in 2008, when what was believed to be a great white shark bit a surfer's board. The surfer was not harmed.

Woman Survives Great White Attack By Digging Her Fingers Into Its Eyes

In April 2017, Leeanne Ericson was surfing at San Onofre Beach in California when a three-meter (10-foot) great white bit her right leg and dragged her underwater shortly after 6:00pm. She fought back by digging her fingers into the shark's eye, and it eventually let her go. After the attack, Ericson was put in a medically induced coma and spent nine weeks in intensive care.

NBC 7 reported: Ericson was swimming with her boyfriend at a popular surf spot called Church — just north of the now-closed San Onofre power plant. A great white shark took a significant bite out of Ericson’s right leg. Ericson said she tried to push it off her and then punched it straight in the eye. “As soon as I felt the teeth go into my leg, I knew exactly what it was,” she told NBC 7. “I just saw a black circle and my brain went, ‘Well, that’s soft. I can hurt that.’” [Source: Bridget Naso and Andrew Johnson, NBC 7 San Diego, May 6, 2019]

She lost a section of her upper right leg and suffered significant blood loss. Ericson was rushed to the hospital where she went into a coma. Doctors later considered amputation, but the strong North County woman proved them wrong by moving her leg. “And they just went as white as their coats because they didn't think I'd ever use it,” Ericson said.She was initially told that walking would be a challenge for her. But since the April 2017 attack -- and with multiple procedures to repair extensive injuries -- Ericson has made an “incredible” recovery.

Competitive Swimmer Survives Great White Attack by Grabbing Its Nose

In July 2014, 50-year-old competitive ocean swimmer Steven Robles was bitten by a great white shark while training near California's Manhattan Beach. "I stared at the shark face to face, looking into his eyeballs as he bit right into me," he told CBS News. "It happened fast. I used my right hand to grab its nose and just tried to yank it off of me." The shark that attacked had been hooked by a nearby fisherman 45 minutes before the incident.

KCAL 9 reported a few days after the attack: Robles sat in the front yard of his Lomita home, with a cast on his arm and his shirt splayed opened to reveal the bloodied lines where shark teeth ripped into his torso. "I'm still pretty shaken up. I'm still rattled, my nerves are still shaky," Robles said, adding that he feels residual soreness and tightness in his chest and has no sensation in his right thumb. He says the shark nicked an artery in his right hand.[Source: Joy Benedict, KCAL 9 NEWS, CBS Los Angeles, July 6, 2014]

Robles was bitten by a two-meter 7-foot-long great white just before 9:30am while doing a long-distance swim. The juvenile shark was apparently caught on a fishing line for some time and became agitated. "The shark came right up to me, bit right into my torso area. He penetrated the first layer of my skin and into my fat tissue," he said. "And somehow I had enough sense to grab his nose with my right hand and pry him off my body."

The swimmer said "the whole attack happened really fast. I saw him swimming from underneath and he surfaced really quick, made a very sharp left and then lunged right at me. I was starting at the shark face-to-face, looking at his eyeballs as he bit right into me." "For a second, I thought this might be it," Robles said. "I was absolutely terrified. I never thought I would die in the ocean."

Robles, a realtor, says he's a trained long-distance swimmer. In 2013, he swam 20 miles from Catalina Island to Palos Verdes. At the time of the attack, Robles was with a group of 14 swimmers, who swim every Saturday morning from Hermosa Beach Pier to Manhattan Beach Pier, preparing for an upcoming International Swim Meet. "I'm very experienced out in the ocean. I've swam my whole life. Because...I'm a strong swimmer, I was able to sustain myself in the water while this injury was going on," Robles said.

There were three or four swimmers a few paces behind Robles and quickly came to his aid when the attack happened. "I was screaming at the top of my lungs. My first instinct was to grab my friend...he held me and was taking it in what was going on," Robles said. A paddler helped get Robles on his longboard and took him to shore.

Fishermen Laugh While Swimmer Struggles with Great White Shark

KCAL 9 reported: Robles believes he just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. As he was swimming by the pier, Robles intersected the tail-end of a 40-minute struggle between the shark and a fisherman's line. The shark had just gotten loose from the line and was thrashing in the water when he bit the swimmer. Officials said it was unusual for a great white shark to have been swimming so close to shore. There were reports that the shark was lured by chum, which is bloody fish parts, on a fisherman's line. [Source: Joy Benedict, KCAL 9 NEWS, CBS Los Angeles, July 6, 2014]

The fisherman who caught the shark claimed he was not chumming, and that he was using only a small sardine as bait with the intention of hooking a Bat Ray. It was unclear if other fishermen were using chum. "For what we fish for, there's no need to chum," the fisherman said. "The fish are already there, they're not attracted to blood. The fisher that we're fishing for have nothing to do with it."

When Benedict asked Robles about it, he said, "It was a horrible decision that this fisherman made, thinking he was going to go catch a shark and drew all that attention. He had that shark on his fishing pole for 40 minutes, from what I hear, and by the time he cut that line loose I was in the wrong spot at the wrong time. The shark was agitated and I was the first thing it saw."

Police state that the fisherman had done nothing illegal, but that all fishing from the Manhattan Beach pier is suspended until July 8. KCAL9 obtained video taken by fishermen on the pier who can be heard off-camera laughing during the attack. It's not known whether one of them was the fisherman who snagged the shark. Based on their comments, they don't seem to fully grasp whether Robles had been scared by the shark or whether he'd actually been bitten.

The Robles family has seen the video. They say they're disturbed that people would laugh and joke about his near-death experience. "What the hell was he thinking? I was almost ready to die right there," Robles said. "And I don't think they understood what was really going on. I hope they didn't understand, because if they did, oh my God, it wasn't even close to funny. This was me about to lose my life."

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Mostly National Geographic articles. Also the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Natural History magazine, Discover magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2023

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