Earlier this month, I had some fun with the Discovery TV Channel’s “Shark Week,” while pointing out – quite seriously – that we’re headed into “prime time” for shark attacks on the California coast. My post quoted shark authorities as saying that divers and surfers in wetsuits are the most likely accidental victims when sharks go cruising for a seal meal.
Uh, did somebody ring the dinner bell? Since then, there have been at least two documented incidents where sharks attacked and gnawed on kayaks, though the paddlers escaped injury. Does this mean coastal kayaking is too risky? NorCal Yak consulted a prominent aquatic scientist who offered some perspective and safety advice for kayakers, based on years of investigating shark incidents. First, the incident details:
Last Saturday, kayak fisherman Adam Coca of Pinole was near Pigeon Point when a shark believed to be a great white hit his boat. “I felt it hit the nose of my boat from below, like boom! Kaboom! Then it flipped the boat over…I held onto my boat and looked right into its eye,” Coca said. “The shark was at least as long as my boat.” See a detailed account and photos in The Santa Cruz Sentinel. And note this yak angler was in an Ocean Prowler – a stable, heavy, 13-foot sit-on-top that wouldn’t tip easily.
Earlier this month, veteran sea kayaker Duane Strosaker had paddled several miles out from Gaviota State Beach in Santa Barbara County when a great white chomped down on his kayak and held it for several seconds before releasing and swimming away. The hull was punctured and the paddler shaken, but he returned to shore safely. Strosaker is not your average recreational paddler – he often paddles several miles out to monitor oil rigs in areas where seals congregate. See the Strosaker blog with photos. He also filed a report with the California Department of Parks and Recreation.
For an expert reaction, NorCal Yak contacted Dr. John McCosker, chairman of the Department of Aquatic Biology at the California Academy of Sciences, who for many years has studied sharks and shark attacks on humans. He’s quite accustomed to public and media misperceptions about sharks. (For example, take this fear-inducing photo from the Discovery Channel.)