LOS OSOS, Calif. (CN) – A great white shark that has been harassing surfers in Morro Bay could be claiming its territory and might continue to see surfers as a threat, a shark expert said Wednesday.
“You’ve got at least one, possibly more, little guys out here that have decided to take up residency for some reason,” said Ralph Collier, who founded the Shark Research Center in Monterey County.
Collier traveled to Los Osos on Wednesday to visit Elinor Dempsey, 54, who was sitting in the surf lineup at Morro Strand State Beach Saturday morning when a great white breached the surface and took a 13½-inch chunk out of her 9-foot surfboard. Less than an hour before, two surfers near Morro Rock, roughly a mile south, were harassed by a shark. The area is off the coast of San Luis Obispo County.
Shark warning signs were posted after the Saturday scares, then taken down after three days – but not for long. They were re-posted Wednesday morning when 70 surfers boogied away from Morro Rock after another sighting. Collier arrived in town a few hours later.
Collier, who has been researching sharks for 50 years, examined the bite on Dempsey’s board. Based on the spacing of the teeth, he estimated it was 11 to 12 feet long.
“It was a substantial and powerful contact,” he said, looking at the board in Dempsey’s front lawn.
Collier said a great white can snap a sea lion in half.
“So breaking through something like this is nothing,” he said, inspecting the surfboard. “It’s like you or I biting into a marshmallow.”
The bite mark on Dempsey’s board features deep, jagged teeth marks that extend nearly halfway through the board.
Collier took samples from the board of what he believed was shark blood. He hopes to get a DNA sample, to see if the shark comes from a group of sharks that tends to return to areas on an annual or biannual cycle.
This shark is a sub-adult, he said.
Based on the behavior of the shark, which bumped one of surfers near Morro Rock twice Saturday morning, he thinks it was protecting its perceived territory. He does not think it was seeking food.
“This incident was not a predatory attack,” he said.
If the shark was protecting its territory, he said, it could continue to harass surfers until it leaves the area.
Dempsey, who plans to return to the surf, said she’s still in shock about the attack, though she was happy to hear Collier talk about it.
“It’s actually helping me get through it,” she said.
While she initially joked that she might sell the board, Dempsey said she has no such plans.
“I’m totally keeping it,” she said.
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