Great White Bites Board, Misses California Surfer

MORRO BAY, Calif. (CN) – A California surfer escaped injury Saturday when a great white shark bit a 13-inch chunk out of her board.
     A shark expert estimated the shark’s length as close to 15 feet, judging from the size of the bite.

     Elinor Dempsey, 54, of Los Osos, was one of several surfers in the lineup at Morro Strand State Beach in Morro Bay at around 10:15 a.m. Morro Bay, northwest of San Luis Obispo, is about halfway from Los Angeles to San Francisco.
     Sitting on her board just outside of the lineup, Dempsey said, she saw something gray nearby.
     “I looked down and was, like, ‘Wow, what is that under the water?'” she told Courthouse News moments after the attack.
     Then she watched the figure turn around and breach the surface.
     “I thought it was a dolphin that came up and landed,” said Dempsey, director of product development at a San Luis Obispo tech company. “And that’s when it bit the board.”
     Nearby surfer Jamie Bettencourt saw the commotion, and the gray dorsal fin, and heard Dempsey yell.
     “Me and another guy started yelling, ‘Out of the water!’ and helped push her, get her to shore safely,” Bettencourt said.

     A California State Parks ranger was there on an unrelated as Dempsey emerged from the water.
     “We happened to be on the beach looking for somebody else and we just drove up on it,” said Lisa Remington, state parks supervising ranger.
     Seeing Dempsey was unhurt, Remington drove along the beach, warning other surfers, who wasted no time coming ashore and watching rangers take photos of Dempsey’s board. The bite mark was 13½ inches wide and 8 inches deep.
     Ralph Collier, of the Southern California-based Shark Research Committee, said it appears from the photo that the shark struck the board with its upper right jaw, not at a 90-degree angle.
     Collier, who developed a system for measuring the size of sharks based on the size of the bite mark and teeth imprints, said he hopes to inspect the board. A shark with a 13½-inch wide bite could be as long as 15 feet, he said.
     Three surfers have been attacked by great whites off the coast of San Luis Obispo County in just over a year.
     In July 2014, a shark with an 11-inch-wide jaw bit the front of Ron Johnson’s board as he was lying on it at Oceano Dunes State Beach.
     In December, Kevin Swanson was sitting on his board at Montana de Oro State Park when he was bit on the thigh and pulled under water. He was airlifted from the beach and had his wound sutured.
     Collier also wants to examine the kayak of fisherman Connor Lyon, whose boat was attacked by a shark in Gaviota in August.
     Collier said El Niño-related warmer water is bringing prey closer to shore, which attracts sharks. Combined with increasing numbers of people entering the water, he said, more human-shark encounters are likely.

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