Shark Attack Serves as Reminder of How to Minimize the Risk, the first place to look for a dive instructor

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Posted by DFG on August 19, 2004 at 11:04:04:

California Department of Fish and Game

Contact: Carrie Wilson, Marine Region, (831) 649-7191

Shark Attack Serves as Reminder of How to Minimize the Risk

The shark attack earlier this week, which caused the tragic death of California sport fishing advocate Randall Fry, serves as a reminder of what other divers can do to minimize the risk of being attacked by the ocean's top predator.

It has been confirmed by the Mendocino County coroner that Fry, 50, of Auburn, died from injuries caused by a white shark (Carcharodon carcharias). Fry and his companion were free diving for red abalone along California’s north coast about 10 miles north of Fort Bragg at Kibesillah Rock in Mendocino County. They were approximately 150 feet from shore and in waters between 15 and 20 feet deep.

"It's extremely rare that a human is attacked by a shark," said Kon Karpov, DFG’s Senior Marine Biologist and abalone researcher in Fort Bragg. "The best advice is to dive with a partner and to avoid areas with high concentrations of pinnipeds, such as harbor seals, sea lions, or elephant seals."

While Fry was an avid diver and, according to his friends, cautious and well aware of the inherent risks of diving in the open ocean, California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) experts are reminding people that there are precautions that can be taken to minimize the threat of a shark attack.

"It may be a case of mistaken identity or it may be investigatory or territorial behavior," said DFG's shark expert Dr. Robert Lea. "The shark's primary prey are marine mammals, and if you happen to look like one, from a shark’s perspective, and you are near the surface, you're at risk."

DFG recommends that divers who are spearfishing or abalone diving should try to stay in kelp forested areas where sharks are less likely to be searching for food. Sharks tend to swim in open water areas, both shallow and deep. While using SCUBA gear is unlawful for abalone diving, it is legal for spearfishing and allows divers to stay close to the ocean's bottom.

"Shark attacks occur from the bottom up," said Karpov. "When using SCUBA, divers should minimize their time spent on the surface going for air and when returning to the boat or shore. This will help to decrease the chance of being mistaken for a pinniped near the surface."

Another tip is to frequently transfer caught fish to a nearby boat or the shore. This practice is highly recommended as bleeding fish can attract sharks to the site. "We can take precautions as recreationalists, but the ocean is not entirely a risk-free environment," Karpov said.

Sharks do not deliberately target humans as prey, however. That was likely the case with Fry and a swimmer who was fatally attacked at Avila Beach in San Luis Obispo County last year. Both were close to the water's surface where they could have been mistaken for a seal or sea lion. Abalone enthusiasts in open water are at greater risk because, as free divers, they frequently surface for air, and can more easily be mistaken for marine mammals.

Abalone diving is a popular activity along the North Coast. Karpov said that data derived from abalone punch cards indicates that on the average, divers spend nearly 100,000 days annually diving for abalone, and more than 30,000 people buy permits each year. Rock picking for abalone is an alternative to free diving and also reduces the risk of a shark attack.

The following are shark statistics recorded by DFG including the latest incident:

White Shark facts:
General tips on how to avoid a shark encounter:
For more information and maps on white sharks, go to


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