Blood in the Water

San O. sharks bring out the Beast

I did it. I went to see the feeding frenzy. And I was attacked.

It was the classic scenario. I was sitting there enjoying the water and watching the horizon when, without warning, I felt a sudden tug from behind.

"Excuse me, I'm with Channel 4. Mind if we interview you for a second?"

Next thing I knew I'd spilled my guts and was praying for someone to rescue me.

As reported by several sources in the past week, two six- to eight-foot Great White sharks were confirmed by San Onofre State Park officials to be cruising Trail One. A third 16- to 18-footer was photographed by the military. Days later, the media continued to circle San O. As many as nine TV crews descended upon the beach, resulting in even more shark watchers. The number of binoculars and gawkers made this the biggest thing to hit San O. since the Winnebago. The only ones who didn't seem starstruck were park officials, who said none of this is really that uncommon.

"We get shark sightings every six months or so," said lifeguard and pro longboarder Jeff Kramer. "What's different here is they seem to be hanging around. We've seen them consistently in the same spot every day for about the past week."

There was talk of closing the park, but for now officials simply put the beach under advisory, warning users of the sharks' presence, suggesting they don't go in the water and asking them to leave the water if they see one.

"We've known there are sharks in these waters forever," said Mike Tope, district superintendent of the Orange Coast District of the Department of Parks and Recreation. "This is one of the most untouched coastlines in Orange and San Diego counties. Geologists have found teeth in these bluffs. All we can do is make sure the public is aware and uses the resources safely."

Or, as Kramer points out, "What are we supposed to do, shut down the park until we stop seeing them and then tell people it's safe again? We all know it's the one you don't see that you have to worry about."

Perhaps it's because school's started or just that the swell's back on vacation, but the day I went to San Onofre nobody seemed interested in using the resources at Trail One. Well, almost nobody. A few fishermen lined the beach looking to hook smaller game, and some families sunned themselves well above the high-tide line. And around 11 a.m., four longboarders came up the trail following a 20-minute session. But it wasn't whitey that cut their session short.

"I know they're out there, but I wasn't too worried about it," said an ex-firefighter named Mike. "I surf up north all the time. What got me out was when my buddy here wiped out and started bleeding. I figured it might be time to go in—or at least get him the hell away from me."

Mike then faced off against two more voracious species of media, retelling his tale halfway up the trail. Meanwhile, the cliffhangers stood watch like Chief Brody—waiting, waiting, waiting. Apparently, they won't have to wait for long: come low tide, the water gets shallower along the near-shore reef that seems to be keeping the sharks around.

"This is a tectonic area that's gradually shifting," said Tope, explaining a new theory that's replacing the conjecture that the sharks are being drawn in by the decaying carcass of a fin whale buried on the beach two years ago. "As this land shifts the reef gets more pronounced and offers more food for the sharks to feed on. In a way, the sharks being here is a good thing. It shows we have a healthy ocean full of sea life."

Healthy ocean or not, there continues to be a healthy interest. And while several watchers commented it would be nice if the dangers of pollution garnered the same attention, unless a leviathan-sized sewage pipe erupts soon, these beastie boys will be big celebs as long as they make regular appearances.

Make that not-so-regular. As of 5 p.m., the audience had to be content with the occasional butterfly and white-bellied tourist. That is, except for one brief but spectacular cameo just before noon, later confirmed by park rangers as a white shark breaching. With no warning, a solid six-footer flew straight up out of the water and plunged back under, tail first—a pike move that left the paparazzi (this one included) too stunned to snap photos.

But we'll be ready next time, along with the rest of SoCal's live-at-fivers. And if the sharks are reading this somewhere, take some advice from Jabberjaw's publicist: smile next time, you son of a bitch.

 
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