Friday, April 25, 2008

shark attack (more?!?! aieeeeeeeee!!!!)

oh god, it's happening again.

i've written about my phobias of ocean swimming before--particularly shark attacks (reference: shark attacks with video, or phobias of the ocean). not exactly a good thing for a triathlete or a surfer to have in the waters off Southern California. for the most part, i've managed to keep this fear under control, and in some ways it's pretty much just a thing i've managed to relegate to the recesses of my past memory. it's a work in progress, and i make it a point to focus on it every time i make an excursion into the ocean.

but every once in a while, something will happen that will reignite the phobia again, and it will flare up like an inferno.

and here it is:,0,3429715.story

if the link doesn't work, i've included the full text of the article below.

there's also a more in-depth story at:

god help that poor man. and my sympathies go out to his family.

and it's not helping that experts are saying the incidents of shark attacks--and great white shark attacks, mind you--are increasing off the coast of Southern the exact places i usually go swimming. check out this article:,0,7924244.story

how lovely.

now i'm freaking out.

i've been to Solana Beach. i've swam at Solana Beach. i know triathletes and surfers who regularly hang out at Solana Beach.

and now it's shark bait season.

they can tell me all the scientific facts and empirical observations and theoretical speculations and metaphysical mumbo jumbo they want to, but the fact remains that a great white shark attacked a fellow athlete in the middle of what i consider to be a routine training swim in a routine training area on a routine day.

they can say that great white sharks, and all sharks in general, generally don't like to eat people, and will actually shy away from human flesh. but the problem is that the primary way for sharks to figure out the identity of a potential target is to taste. which means a nibble...and unfortunately, to a great white shark, a nibble constitutes an entire leg.

they can say that sharks off Southern California prefer sea lions, seals, otters, and assorted marine mammals, and so will avoid human bodies. but this ignores the fact that: 1) sharks are near-sighted, 2) the waters off Southern California are murky, and 3) great whites employ breach attacks, a highly aggressive mode of attack involving a rising strike from directly below that involves a committed act of chomping down on the intended target--even if that target is one that the shark prefers to avoid.

they can say that sharks have extra senses involved bioelectrical signals, and enhanced sense of smell, and a 6th sense that let them read human activity and stay away. but try telling that to the old man who got munched in this story. those extra senses didn't exactly stop this great white, did it?

they can say that great whites fear humans, and will vacate an area if they sense mass human presence. again: try telling that to the man who got killed in this story. if anything, it looks like this great white practiced a culling strategy typical of land-based predatory mammals (e.g., wolves), which attack any prey it deems weak or sick or vulnerable...such as being the last person in a swim line in the open ocean.

they can say that sufficient human attention can detect the potential of shark predation by observing natural activity in an area--examples include normal prey seeking refuge on the shore (i.e., the sea lion spotted on the beach in this story). true enough. on this i will agree. but how do you know if such activity is caused by a shark, or caused by other factors? precautionary principles dictate staying out of the water anyway to avoid catastrophic risk, but does this mean we avoid the ocean anytime we see a random sea lion?


like i said, i'm freaking out.

i may be acting like a whiny lily-livered coward. but my phobia has returned in full force with the news release of this story. in short: oh. my. god.

now i have to start the process of getting over my fears all over again.

how lovely.

Shark kills man off San Diego County coast

The victim, a 66-year-old triathlete, was with a group of swimmers off Solana Beach when he was attacked by what an expert says was likely a great white. Authorities close a stretch of beaches.
By Laura Nott, H.G. Reza and Molly Hennessy-Fiske

SOLANA BEACH -- A shark attacked and killed a 66-year-old triathlete this morning, biting his legs as he swam in a group off this beach city 20 miles north of San Diego, authorities said.

Authorities identified the man as Dave Martin, a retired veterinarian who has lived in Solana Beach since 1970.

Richard Rosenblatt, a shark expert and professor emeritus at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, told reporters that "this almost certainly was a great white shark." He said the attack fit the pattern of attacking from beneath, then moving away, and that the wounds also looked like they came from a great white shark.

Martin, Rosenblatt said, was "pushed out of the water in a violent attack, and that's just typical of great white feeding behavior -- that is, they normally feed on seals, come up from below, take a powerful bite, then rush away and wait for other animals to come back."

The swimmers were wearing wetsuits.

"We think it was mistaken identity" because sharks hunt based on "silhouettes," Rosenblatt said. "A human swimmer is not too unlike a seal."

The attack occurred about 7 a.m. near Fletcher Cove in an area known as Table Tops, said Lt. Phil Brust, a spokesman for the San Diego County Sheriff's Department.

Martin was part of a group from the Triathlon Club of San Diego that swims every Friday morning in the Fletcher Cove area. He was on the group's scheduled 6:30 a.m. swim.

"They were swimming and the victim apparently yelled 'Shark,' or words to that effect, and the witnesses that were in the water apparently saw him actually being lifted out of the water and drug under," Brust said. "They went to his aid and dragged him onto the beach, where he succumbed to his injuries."

The attack reportedly took place about 150 yards offshore. Martin was among nine people swimming north when he was attacked, Sheriff's Sgt. Randy Webb said. Martin surfaced and began screaming. Four other swimmers helped him to the beach, where lifeguards performed CPR. A helicopter was called to take him to a hospital, but he was declared dead on the beach. Three volunteers arrived to provide grief counseling to other swimmers, Webb said.

Martin was declared dead at approximately 7:50 a.m.

The shark bit him on both legs, said Deputy Solana Beach Fire Chief Dismas Abelman. Martin had apparently separated from the rest of his group when he was attacked, he said.

The San Diego County Sheriff's Department ordered 5 to 8 miles of beach closed while helicopters searched for other sharks in the waters.

Beaches were closed indefinitely this morning from South Carlsbad to Torrey Pines beaches, said Julie Taber, a spokeswoman for the Rancho Santa Fe Fire Protection District. She said no other shark sightings had been reported this morning.

Solana Beach Mayor Joe Kellejian urged people to stay out of the water. "While we don't want people to panic, we do want them to listen to the officials."

A sheriff's helicopter was circling the waters where the man was attacked, searching for the shark. If investigators find the shark, it would then be up to U.S. Fish and Game or another agency to trap it, Brust said.

Harbor seals were reported seen in the water before the attack, officials said. Sharks are known to prey on seals. Seals congregate at the La Jolla Cove south of Solana Beach.

Amanda Benedict, 36, is a member of Martin's swim group but was not in water this morning. After the attack, she went to a nearby community center for counseling sessions.

Benedict said she thought the attack was a "random event" and urged the public "just not to freak out."

But other local triathletes said they had long been worried that an attack like this would happen because of the number of seals in the area and the thousands of triathletes who train in ocean waters.

"I live across the ocean from the La Jolla Cove, and in the last few years, the seal population has been exploding," said triathlete Mitch Thrower of La Jolla. "Now when I swim, the seals actually swim very close by in groups. The seal population seems to have increased here in La Jolla and up and down the San Diego coast."

Thrower specifically criticized the way La Jolla allows dozens of harbor seals to lounge on the beach at the Children's Pool area -- a situation which animal-rights activists encourage but which others criticize, in part because the seals might attract sharks to shallow waters.

"I love the seals, but it was clearly a mistake to open a McShark in the center of the open-water swimming community of San Diego," Thrower said.

This morning's beach closure did not discourage all surfers and bodyboarders.

At Cardiff State Beach, just north of Solana Beach, Lynn Austin, 51, a stay-at-home mother from Carlsbad who has been surfing for 40 years, remained in the water about 12:30 p.m. despite the warnings of rangers who were driving along the beach. Austin, who has a 5-year-old daughter, said her husband thought she was getting her nails done.

"They usually attack in the morning and evening -- and from what I've been told, they spend the rest of the day in deeper water sleeping," Austin said. "But you don't want to catch a wave and fall off your board because that's when you attract sharks, when you do a big splash."

Austin said she thought splashing probably attracted the shark this morning, but she felt the odds were in her favor.

"If it happened to me, I would have died happy," said the veteran surfer, who added, "My husband would shoot me if he knew I was out here."

Nearby, Justin Sturgeon, 34, of Del Mar was bodyboarding with a couple of others. Of the beach closures, he said: "It's an advisory. It's not mandatory. When you surf three or four times a week like I do, you would understand why I and these other two people are out here."

He said he felt safe. "How many times would the same shark attack twice on the same day?"

Brenda Zito, 51, a local resident, attended the beach news conference this morning and said Martin had been her veterinarian and had shown great kindness when he put down her cat.

"He was a very compassionate, nice guy," she said.

She said he had worked at All Creatures Animal Hospital in Del Mar, and added, "It's really odd that someone who had dedicated his life to animals was killed by one."

In Del Mar, Michael Mulvany, owner of All Creatures, said he had gone to the beach to surf in the morning, seen all the commotion and returned to the animal hospital. There, he found out that Martin, who once co-owned the hospital with him, had been killed.

Mulvany said Martin had three older sons and a teenage daughter. He said Martin was "never a high-stress individual. That's why people enjoyed working with him.

"He always had a smile on his face, never seemed to get down. That's what I'll miss."

Brust, who has been with the Sheriff's Department for 17 years, said he can't remember the last reported shark attack. There have been no recent shark sightings reported in the area where the man was killed, he said.

"We know it's the ocean and there are sharks out there, but no one can remember this ever happening and it's just a shock to the community," he said.

"Everybody's thinking about the movie 'Jaws.' "


Steph said...

(1) I believe EVERY triathlete fears sharks at some point. Personally, not an ocean swim goes by that I don't think about it at least once, even in Long Beach bay.

(2) It's still pretty damn unlikely.

(3) Why did you have to call out the victim for being last in the swim line-up? Jk, jk...not appropriate...

(4)Did they have a memorial or anything for this guy?

Sladed said...

As a long-time Boogie Boarder and rough water swimmer, and now as a recent convert to Triathlon, I have the fear as well. But I intend to face the fear and face the challenge. And my first chance to do that will be in just over a week as I do the sprint tri in Encinitas, 5 miles north of Solana Beach. If you feel like it, read my post on my workout blog at

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