Warnings continue as shark attack investigated

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Posted by on October 06, 2004 at 00:26:09:

In Reply to: shark attack on surfer at Pismo Beach posted by on October 04, 2004 at 02:23:06:

10/5/04 As Pismo Beach police try to determine what exactly bit an Orcutt teen's surfboard over the weekend, warning signs will remain posted at Pismo-area beaches and the water will remain off-limits in Avila Beach until Thursday.

The surfboard remains with the police department, but photos of the teeth marks on the board will be sent to marine experts for inspection, said Sgt. Jerry Keesling.

If necessary the board itself will be sent to the experts, but police believe the damage was caused by a shark.

Ben Ikola, 16, of Orcutt told police he had been attacked by a shark Saturday afternoon while surfing near the Pismo Beach Pier. Ikola said he felt something brush past his leg before he was flipped off his board. He quickly swam back to shore and alerted authorities.

Signs warning of a confirmed shark attack were posted on surrounding beaches, including Pismo city and state beaches, advising swimmers to enter at their own risk. Those signs did not deter surfers Sunday but they will remain up until Thursday evening, said Mike Harkness, battalion chief for the California Department of Forestry, which serves as the area's fire department.

Two lifeguards will also be on duty during that time to warn swimmers of the shark danger, even though the regular lifeguard season is over, he said.

The water at the Port San Luis Harbor District, which includes Avila Beach and Olde Port Beach, is off limits until Thursday at 5 p.m. The harbor district has a policy that calls for a five-day closure of the waters after a shark sighting or attack in nearby areas. The regulations were adopted in August 2003 after Hancock College instructor Deborah Franzman of Nipomo died from a great white shark attack as she swam at Avila Beach.

Shark attacks are usually a case of mistaken identity, said Mike Wintemute, spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Game, when sharks mistake people for sea lions or other creatures they feed on. The usual culprits are great white sharks, which prefer cool California waters, he said.

The elusive predators are hard to track, he said, so it is hard to determine where they will be at any time of year. The great white travels long distances and does not have a set migrating pattern like some sea creatures, he said.

"They are elusive; they're very good at hiding from threats and perceived threats," he said, noting that they are rarely seen by humans.

One thing that is known, he said, is that sharks hang out in areas were there is food. Areas that have large concentrations of fish, and as a result sea lions that feed on the fish, can expect a shark to be nearby.

He advises swimmers to avoid swimming with sea lions or in areas near river mouths, where fish populations can be higher.

He also recommends that divers spend a limited amount of time on the surface because sharks feed by sneaking up under unsuspecting creatures on the surface. Risks are especially high on foggy days when visibility is reduced, which increases the chance of sharks confusing swimmers, or surfers, with food.

Margaux Gurnee, program director for the Port San Luis Marine Institute, said the number of sea lions and dolphins feeding in the area has decreased from last year. However, this is the time of year when sea lion pups mature and wander away from their mothers, making them prime targets for predators.

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