Likely shark attack on Central Calif. coast

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Posted by scubabum on August 19, 2003 at 17:13:57:

11:49 a.m., August 19, 2003

Associated Press
The Harbor Patrol from the Port San Luis Harbor District warns people not to enter the water in Avila Beach.

AVILA BEACH A woman was killed Tuesday in an apparent shark attack as she swam near a pier on the Central California coast, officials said.

"The wounds are very indicative of a shark attack," said California Department of Fish and Game spokeswoman Chamois L. Andersen.

Port San Luis Harbor District operations manager Casey Nielsen said officials were working with wildlife experts to determine what type of animal killed the swimmer in the 8:15 a.m. attack.

The victim, whose name was withheld, died at the scene, San Luis Obispo County sheriff's Sgt. Robin Weckerly said.

The local woman, believed to be in her 50s, was swimming about 75 yards offshore in a full wetsuit and swim fins when she was attacked, possibly after being mistaken for a seal, Andersen said.

"Her friend on the beach noticed she was swimming with some seals," Andersen said. "All of a sudden, the seals dispersed rapidly and a large breach of water, this large upwelling of water, occurred in the vicinity of where the woman was swimming. Very indicative of a shark attack."

The friend screamed for help from lifeguards, who were training nearby. They recovered the body.

An autopsy was scheduled for Tuesday or Wednesday, Andersen said.

The beach, located south of Morro Bay about 200 miles northwest of Los Angeles, was closed by the port authority.

Fatal shark attacks are extremely rare.

There have been nine fatalities in California since record-keeping began in the 1950s, and 105 incidents fatal and nonfatal along the entire West Coast during the same period, according to Fish and Game statistics.

The victims of the most recent California attacks both survived. A surfer was struck in late November off of Sonoma County, and another surfer was attacked off Marin County in May 2002.

Nielsen said swimmers should avoid waters where there are signs that wildlife are feeding.

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