A great white shark attacked a kayak near Pleasure Point in Santa Cruz earlier this month, throwing the boater into the water. And just last week, another sighting was made just south of Santa Cruz in Aptos.
Yet shark experts say there’s little to fear.
“Your chances of encountering a white shark are extremely slim,” said George Burgess, curator of the International Shark Attack File and director of the Florida Program for Shark Research. “For the last several years, we have been averaging only five white shark-related deaths worldwide per year.”
That being said, shark attacks do happen. The U.S. had 29 nonfatal attacks in 2011, three of them in California, according to the International Shark Attack File.
Sightings in the Bay Area are not infrequent. The Red Triangle, which stretches from San Francisco to the Farallon Islands to Monterey, is named for its high white shark activity and attacks.
Sharks come so close to shore because they are looking for food, their favorite being sea lions, Burgess said. They know their best chance of getting prey is to be in shallow waters. Data from the Farallones and Año Nuevo Island indicate that white sharks are most likely to occupy those sites in late summer and early fall, said Gregor Cailliet, the director emeritus of the Pacific Shark Research Center and professor emeritus of the California State University’s Moss Landing Marine Laboratories and its Fresno campus.The reasons for attacks are varied.
“Virtually all attacks are motivated in one fashion or another by an interest in feeding,” said Burgess. “White sharks are also very inquisitive.”
Sometimes, sharks just mistake humans or boats for food. For example, white sharks will eat seals and sea lions but not sea otters, which are often found dead after being discarded. Other times, sharks are just curious.
“They grab with their mouths because that’s the only thing they have to grab with,” said Burgess. “It’s kind of like how dogs bite objects to test them out for food, but the difference is a shark’s teeth are much bigger.”
The chance of encountering white sharks might be slim, but Burgess said people need to realize that entering the ocean is a wilderness experience.
The last shark sighting at Ocean Beach was about a year ago and was unverified, said spokeswoman Alexandra Picavet of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.