By Pete Thomas
Shark experts have often said that you’re far more likely to be injured or killed while driving to the beach than by falling victim to a shark attack.
That might be true, but you’d be hard-pressed to convince surfers and swimmers along a popular stretch of Southern California coastline, where a woman was seriously injured during a shark attack last Saturday.
In the days since Leeanne Ericson was bitten in the upper thigh area while swimming at San Onofre State Beach in North San Diego County – she remains in critical condition – dozens of great white sharks have been spotted by surfers, lifeguards, boaters, and drone pilots.
Many of the sharks were breaching, or jumping, in close proximity to surfers.
It’s worth nothing that juvenile white sharks – measuring 10 feet or less – feed in coastal waters throughout Southern California. They prey almost exclusively on stingrays and other bottom fishes.
But at San Onofre State Beach, the congregation of so many sharks, with the attack still fresh in the minds of many, lifeguards and beachgoers remain in a state of heightened concern.
The attack generated national headlines and prompted Michael Domeier of the Marine Science Conservation Institute to write on Facebook:
“The area around San Onofre, California, is one that I’ve expected a bad shark/human interaction to happen sooner or later. As the white shark population has increased this area has become a hotspot for young-of-the-year and juveniles. We hope the victim has a speedy recovery.”
The white shark population off Southern California is growing because of long-imposed fishing-gear restrictions, protections for white sharks, and a robust sea lion population that provides a bountiful supply of prey for adult white sharks.
There will always be hotspots, though: areas where water temperatures and feeding conditions are prime. And although sittings have occurred from Los Angeles to San Diego County, the San Onofre area currently owns the spotlight.
A day after Ericson was bitten while swimming near her boyfriend, who was on a surfboard, three surfers hastened ashore after sighting a large shark, according to Surfline.
A few days later some of the world’s top surfers witnessed a shark breach near the lineup at Lower Trestles, a famous break in San Onofre State Beach.
On Monday and Tuesday, two more shark breaches were caught on video by Surfline wave-cams (posted above).
A handful of nearby sightings also have occurred, and it’s likely that sightings will continue well into summer.