Passengers aboard the Dana Pride on Tuesday evening had marveled at the sight of a blue whale mother and calf, and a third blue whale during an excursion from Dana Point, Calif. But it was when Capt. Todd Mansur had begun to move in the hope of locating dolphins that a truly rare sighting was made: that of a great white shark.
More unusual was that the shark, a juvenile or sub-adult measuring about 10 feet, had its fin out of the water and was approaching the boat, from straight off the bow. It even briefly rode the bow wake, like a dolphin.
"At first it was in the glare and I thought it could be a swordfish or a marlin," said Mansur, who works for Dana Wharf Whale Watching and has been a local captain for 25 years. "As soon as I saw what it was I got on the P.A. and announced that we have a great white shark."
Mansur said he was 100% sure it was a white shark, but that has not yet been verified by experts. However, while white sharks are rarely encountered, Southern California waters are a feeding ground for juvenile sharks. They prey largely on fish and rays before they reach about 12 feet, when they migrate offshore and to the north to prey on seals and sea lions.
Mansur was able to turn the boat away from the glare long enough for his passengers to enjoy a clean look, and for him to videotape part of the encounter from the wheelhouse with his cellphone. This was about 1.5 miles off San Clemente, just south of Dana Point, at a depth of 120 feet.
[Related: Expert takes extreme measures on behalf of great white sharks]
The captain said he has seen only eight white sharks in all his years as a captain and big-game fisherman, and four of them were at high spots near the offshore islands. Two others were pointed out by airplane pilots.
"It's very rare to see them, and even rarer to see one finning," he said. "They hardly ever put their fins up. This thing was coming right at us at [a position of] 12 o'clock. It was like a game of chicken."