October 3, 2009
Two great white sharks spotted off Santa Cruz County beaches
by Alia Wilson
APTOS -- A day after a Capitola man shot video of a great white shark off the Seacliff pier, shark researcher Sean Van Sommeran reported seeing a great white off of Manresa State Beach around 1 p.m. Friday.
Van Sommeran, who heads the Pelagic Shark Research Foundation in Santa Cruz, said he spotted the 16-foot great white in the water near the railroad trestle at Manresa in South County.
Van Sommeran, working with Specialized Helicopters out of Watsonville, said, "It's a big one."
He believes the shark is a female that his group has previously tagged.
"It's pretty routine for this time of year," Van Sommeran said, adding the shark is definitely not the great white caught on film off Seacliff on Thursday.
Van Sommeran said "it's white shark season right now," which keeps his foundation busy as they track the protected species' movements.
"There have been several reports in past weeks about good-sized sharks in the La Selva through New Brighton areas," he said. "There's lots of dolphin and porpoise activity too due to presence of bait schools in that corner of the bay."
The Capitola and New Brighton kelp beds are also playing hosts to several leopard sharks and bat rays, he said.
That's just what Ryan Dunlap has been seeing in past weeks. Dunlap was fishing for striped bass on the Seacliff State Beach pier Wednesday, when he noticed something a little larger tugging on his line.
Dunlap, 30, said he managed to
lure a 10-foot great white close to the pier with nothing but a foot-long sardine for bait.
"I noticed him cruising along in about 4 feet of water and watched him loop around the pier," Dunlap said. "We saw about 50 to 60 stripers along the surf line before they bailed. About five minutes later the great white showed up."
Dunlap said the shark brushed up against his main line before it began chomping on the sardine, pulling him all the way down the pier.
"I didn't know what to do so I just followed it and kept holding onto my pole," Dunlap said. "He just kept chomping on my bait and then let go. The bait was all shredded."
Dunlap was unable to capture any video of the shark Wednesday, but found it again Thursday. Armed with his digital camera, he took some footage. Dunlap said he and about 10 others watched the shark.
Having fished since he was a little kid, Dunlap said he has seen numerous fish and sharks, both common and rare. Last year, at Seacliff, he said he caught an 8-foot sevengill shark, a predator known to prowl in deep water.
Dunlap said great whites are known to return to the Monterey Bay to feed on elephant seals at Año Nuevo in the summer, but the last time he saw one was two years ago, when a great white pinned a baby gray whale up against the surf line at Seacliff.
Dunlap said he was unable to report this week's sighting because no rangers were around at the time.
Van Sommeran reported his sighting to State Parks lifeguards Friday, but said he doubted it would result in beach closures.
"If they were to close the beach every time they got a report or not, they'd be closed all the time," he said.
State Parks officials said Friday that unless the sharks display predatory behavior the beaches will not be closed. Lifeguard Supervisor Chip Bockman said they won't be issuing a warning for beach-goers unless they received another sighting either at Manresa or Seacliff.
"Usually we would issue an advisement on the initial day of the sighting, but we didn't know about this until last night," Bockman said. "If there is another sighting, we will make an advisement."
After a shark sighting at Seacliff in August and evidence of the shark's aggressive behavior, including a bite out of a porpoise, the beach was closed for a week, and people were kept out of the water. Supervisor Ron Callison said no reports have been made regarding a new sighting, so no new warnings have been issued.
"Judging by the large bite size ... the shark in August was determined to be a juvenile great white shark, but we don't really get a lot of activity there," Callison said.
When asked if it was safe to go in the water, Van Sommeran said given the large number of dolphins and marine mammal traffic, the chances of sharks stopping and tangling with a surfer are "slim."
Van Sommeran, who also viewed Dunlap's video of the great white at Seacliff, said he believes the shark was part of the white shark family, possibly a salmon shark, but likely a juvenile great white, about 6 feet.
"With the Marc Monte fireworks thing coming up there will be a lot of people on the beach," Dunlap said. "Rangers should at least warn people that the shark was seen."
If rangers are not present, people can call 911 or California Highway Patrol and they will be directed to State Parks.
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Capitola fisherman Ryan Dunlap said he believes a great white shark ate half of his foot-long sardine on Wednesday. Dunlap was fishing off the Seacliff pier when he saw the 10-foot shark. He shot a video of the shark in about 4 feet of water (Ryan Dunlap/Contributed photo)
Shark researchers spotted a 16-foot great white shark just after noon Friday. The shark, likely a female, was following a pod of dolphins. (Specialized Helicopter/Pelagic Shark Research Foundation/Contributed photo)
Chris Gularte of Specialized Helicopters in Watsonville and Sean Van Sommeran of the Pelagic Shark Research Foundation flew over the Santa Cruz County coastline Friday looking for sharks. They saw a 16-foot great white off Manresa State Beach ( Contributed photo)
Just after noon Friday, Sean Van Sommeran of the Pelagic Shark Research Foundation took photos of a great white shark following a small pod of dolphins off Manresa State Beach. The 16-foot shark is likely a female, he said and not uncommon for this time of year.
(Specialized Helicopter/Pelagic Shark Research Foundation)
Ryan Dunlap of Capitola often fishes off the Seacliff pier where he caught these striped bass. Thursday and Friday he saw what he believes to be a 10-foot great white shark swimming just off the pier. (Contributed photo)