by Thom Patterson - CNN
May 31, 2002
STINSON BEACH, California (CNN) -- A Great White shark attacked a surfer Friday off the northern California coast, biting him on the leg and back, the town fire chief said.
The victim -- 24-year-old Lee Fontan of Bolinas, California -- was listed in critical condition and undergoing surgery late Friday afternoon, said Marlo Lucila, a spokeswoman for Eden Medical Center.
Fontan was pulled from his board about 300 yards offshore and "apparently fought off the shark," said Stinson Beach Fire Chief Kenny Stevens.
Stevens said the attack was witnessed by 10 to 15 nearby surfers. The surfers reported seeing a 12- to 15-inch dorsal fin during the attack.
Victim fought off the Great White
"[Fontan] had an approximately 8- to 10-inch laceration on his left leg with bone and muscle exposed," Stevens said. "And on his upper back area, he had a mid-line rib area wound approximately 8 inches long, and a nick on his left arm. This is a pretty serious incident."
"He kept asking if he was going to be OK," Stevens said. "We told him that he would -- and he will be OK."
Authorities displayed Fontan's surfboard to the news media. The board had what appeared to be two large teeth marks and a damaged area that measured about 5 inches across.
Surfer Brook Gardner said she watched the attack.
"All I saw was thrashing up and down," she said. "He was, like, punching it."
Another surfer who said he was in the water at the time of the attack said surfers organized themselves into circles to defend against the shark.
"It was a very, very big shark," he said.
The beach was closed to surfing and swimming immediately following the attack and will remain closed for five days, Stevens said.
Shark attacks rare in California
The chief said it was the first such attack at the beach in four years.
Stinson Beach, a coastal community of about 1,000 people, is about 9 miles north of San Francisco.
Sean Van Sommeran, executive director of the Pelagic Shark Research Foundation, a non-profit shark research center, said such attacks are rare in California.
"There have been less than 100 attacks since the 1920s when records began being kept," Van Sommeran said.
Asked if the size of a shark can be estimated based on the dorsal fin length, he said it is difficult to do.
"Most of these sharks that attack people are about 12 feet long," he said.
The largest known Great White sharks can reach lengths of 20 feet and weigh 2.5 tons, he said. A typical Great White will have 50 "active" teeth with three more rows of teeth behind them.
The average Great White shark is 12-16 feet long, with about 3,000 teeth. When the shark nears the surface, its dorsal fin and part of its tail are visible above the water.
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