A fatal shark attack on a bodyboarder early Friday north of Santa Barbara has resulted in the temporary closure of three area beaches.
Lucas Ransom, 19, was riding waves with a friend at about 9 a.m. when the shark bit him on the leg 100 yards offshore at Surf Beach, which is on Vandenberg Air Force Base west of Lompoc.
Ransom, who is from the Riverside County town of Romoland, was a student at UC Santa Barbara. He bled to death as a result of his injuries, which are presumed to have been caused by a great white.
Surf, Wall and Minuteman beaches were ordered closed for at least 72 hours. The latter two beaches are off-limits to the general public.
This is the time of year that many adult white sharks return from long open-ocean forays and begin to feed on seals and other pinnipeds at coastal and island rookeries off Central and Northern California.
But adult white sharks can lurk off the coast at any time. The last fatal attack by a great white off California was in late April of 2008, involving a swimmer off Solana Beach in San Diego County.
Previously, a scuba diver was killed by a white shark off Fort Bragg in Northern California in August of 2004. A year earlier, also in August, a woman was killed as she swam near seals off Avila Beach in Central California.
According to the Florida-based International Shark Attack File, before Friday's attack there had been only eight fatal attacks by white sharks on humans off California since 1916.
However, there is a consensus among some scientists that white shark population off California is increasing.
Christopher Lowe, who runs the Cal State Long Beach Shark Lab, attributes this to a longstanding ban on fishing for white sharks, a longstanding ban imposed on gill-net fishing in white shark nursery areas close to the coast, and the phenomenal rise in the number of California sea lions, which constitute a readily available food source for large white sharks.
Lowe, however, has not implied that this will translate into more attacks on humans, because white sharks have evolved over millions of years into such specialized predators.
Patric Douglas, CEO of Shark Diver, which is a California-based commercial shark-diving company that has extensive experience with white sharks, has witnessed the predators' behavior up-close dozens of times and can attest to their cautious, investigatory approach to possible prey.
Douglas agrees with scientists that most, if not all white shark attacks on humans involve mistaken identity, and advises people to stay out of the water very early in the morning when the sun might be at such an angle as to make it difficult for sharks to discern people from prey -- notably pinnipeds.
"Because that's when most of the attacks happen," Douglas said. "Just stay out of the water and give the sharks their due, because that's their time."
-- Pete Thomas
-- Generic white shark image courtesy of Christy Fisher / Sharkdiver.com. Photo of bodyboard with shark bite courtesy of the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Dept.