Re: Great white takes diver near Westport

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Posted by on August 20, 2004 at 12:46:30:

In Reply to: Great white takes diver near Westport posted by on August 19, 2004 at 11:22:52:

Great white takes diver near Westport
By TONY REED Of The Beacon

Thursday, August 19, 2004 -

Sheriff's Department and marine officials confirmed Tuesday that abalone diver, Randall "Randy" Fry, whose body was found in the ocean near Westport Monday, had been the victim of a Great White Shark attack.

After seeing the bite mark left on Fry's body, Sheriff's Lt. Don Miller said he had received information that only a great white could inflict that type of damage. According to Miller, the bite mark spanned from one shoulder to another on the victim. In 30 years with the department, he had never seen anything like it, Miller said.

According to Sheriff's Department reports, the Fry and his friend Cliff Zimmerman, of Fort Bragg, had been diving in an area just south of Westport, off Kibesilla Rock in around 15 feet of water Sunday afternoon. Upon surfacing for air, Zimmerman saw what was described as "a big fish" swim between him and Fry. Zimmerman immediately swam to their fishing boat, where another friend was standing by, however Fry disappeared. The two notified the Coast Guard after finding no signs of him.

Personnel from the Sheriff's Department Search and Rescue, along with Westport Fire, the Coast Guard and the Department of Forestry immediately began searching the area, but called off the search after dusk.

The following day, Search and Rescue personnel found Fry in about 15 feet of water, but suspecting that sharks might still be in the area, chose not to enter the water to retrieve his body. A USCG boat was called to the scene to pull Fry from the water Monday.

A complete autopsy began Tuesday. Sheriff's Lt. Coroner Kurt Smallcomb said that in their preliminary examination, the bite measured about 18 inches across, causing the separation of head from torso. Smallcomb reported that no teeth fragments were apparent in the preliminary investigation, but the full autopsy is still pending.

Fry was the West Coast regional director of the Northern California Chapter of the Recreational Fishing Alliance and had come to Fort Bragg for a fund-raiser that took place Saturday in Noyo Harbor. He was one of several speakers at the Economic Outlook Conference April 15, 2004 at Dana Gray Middle School auditorium. Fry spoke of how recently adopted regulations were negatively affecting the sport fishing industry.

RFA-NorCal is a coalition of private boat anglers, spear fisherman, bank and kayak anglers, and allied sport fishing organizations who represent the individual angler and diver in the fishery management process. RFA-NorCal is the most active local chapter in the nation's largest grass-roots political lobby association.

A terrifying, tragic encounter

Zimmerman described the event in detail by telephone Monday afternoon. At the time of the attack, he and Fry were only a couple feet apart. Saying that they had only stopped for a few seconds on the surface for air, Zimmerman was not looking at Fry when he sensed the first signs of something wrong.

"He might have just dove, I was looking down when I heard an instantaneous whooshing sound, and felt the water move, as if a boat went by," Zimmerman said. "I turned to see what it was and saw the side of a big fish."

Zimmerman then saw a fin and part of the shark's body as it came to the surface of the water at a high rate of speed and disappeared again. He said that at that point he realized that the worst may have happened.

"The way it hit, I was sure it had my friend," he said.

Saying that he could see a diving tube in the water several feet away, Zimmerman added, "then everything turned red."

Their boat was anchored about 150 feet away, occupied by Red Bartley, of Modesto. Zimmerman said he could hear Bartley yelling that he could see blood as well, and was pointing to the area where the attack occurred. Zimmerman said that he looked around in a state of panic and began swimming for the boat, fearing that he would also be attacked at any moment. Fortunately, he made it to the boat unhurt.

"It's something you never dream would happen," he said, adding that he and Fry were good friends. Each had been diving around 30 years.

A second boat arrived in the area, and after communicating with the two, the operator began looking around in the water as well, said Zimmerman. Emergency personnel were contacted and began to arrive shortly afterward.

Shark attacks uncommon

Sean Van Sommeran, Executive Director and CEO of the Santa Cruz-based Pelagic Shark Foundation, agreed that the bite could only have been caused by a Great White. Although other types of sharks, namely the six- and seven-gilled variety, have been known to reach that size, none have never been documented to attack humans.

"I would be very surprised if it was anything other than a great white," he said.

When asked if the bite width could be used to determine the length of the shark, researchers have to be very careful. According to Van Sommeran, the violent nature of an attack, and the flexible jaw structure of the shark may distort the evidence left by the bite. As the shark's skeletal structure is cartilage, and the jaw can flex at four separate points, the mouth can distort and stretch during an attack.

"You can't always go by that," he said.

Van Sommeran also said that the 15-foot water depth was common for great whites to inhabit, as the larger ones come to shallower waters this time of year. Great whites and Tiger Sharks have even been known to pursue a seal or sea lion into the white water surf, Van Sommeran added.

As to the reason for the attack, Van Sommeran said that research showed that mistaken identity was not always the case.

"It doesn't have to look like a sea lion for the shark to bite it," he said. "It's not always so much what it is, but how close it is."

Saying that sharks will often bite something simply to determine what it is, Van Sommeran added that after a bite most will rarely return to continue feeding.

Van Sommeran noted that he knew of Fry, and also said that he was an experienced diver, who knew the ocean and its potential for danger well.

"He wasn't careless at all," said Van Sommeran, making note of the fact that Fry was diving with a buddy, and following commonly accepted safety guidelines.

Van Sommeran said that anyone who dives or surfs knows well that the presence of sharks and other hazards are a possibility, and have resolved themselves to the threat.

Lt. Miller expressed extreme concern that surfers tend to frequent a beach located around a mile from the attack location. Miller said that with very low tides expected this weekend, the open water may attract more divers to the area.

However, the frequency of shark attacks is very rare, Van Sommeran said. Since 1926, only about a dozen attacks had been documented. Considering the amount of people who go into the water every day, it's amazing to think that these are all the attacks that have occurred, he said.

When asked what advice he would give to surfers, divers and swimmers, Van Sommeran suggested to go with a friend, and pay attention to surroundings.

"Make no mistake," he said, "when you enter the ocean, you are entering the ocean."

Great Whites are a protected species in California, restricted from hunting or fishing, and are crucial to controlling the population of seals and sea lions.

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