Shark Attacks in California

The thing about a shark is, he’s got lifeless eyes. Black eyes. Like a doll’s eyes. When he comes at ya, he doesn’t even seem to be livin’. ‘Til he bites ya, and those black eyes roll over white and then…”
Quint, “Jaws”

The very idea of shark attacks can strike terror into the hearts of people – especially those who like to frequently visit open waters. These marine creatures are known for their fearsome appearance, terrifying teeth, large size and hostile attitude.

The sudden violence of a shark attack is something straight out of our worse nightmares. And unfortunately for many people, these confrontations have become a frightening reality.

With over 300 reports, California ranks third on the list of places with the highest number of shark attacks anywhere in the world. Luckily there have only been 24 cases of fatalities since 1851, with the final attack occurring in October 2022.

California’s 800-mile-long coast is home to many species of sharks, but the fatal attacks are usually always instigated by white sharks. Lover’s Point is an especially dangerous place where the first recorded death due to a shark attack happened.

Do Sharks Deliberately Hunt People?

Most scientists agree that these macropredators don’t hunt people intentionally, and if they happen to take a bite, they leave the victim alone afterwards and don’t consume it. So, no. Sharks aren’t man-eating monsters with a taste for human flesh. But their curious nature means that they are still quite dangerous.

This explains why the California Department of Fish and Wildlife uses the term “incident,” instead of “attack”. They define an incident as an interaction where a shark touches a human, canoe or paddle boat without being incited to do so, with or without causing damage.

There are over 300 species of shark, but only about a dozen or so have ever come close to humans. And can you really blame them? We are floating bags of meat in the ocean, anyone would want a bite!

You see, sharks evolved millions of years ago, and we aren’t a part of their normal diet since we didn’t really exist back then, so they never developed a taste for human flesh. The thing about sharks is that they are opportunistic feeders that primarily eat invertebrates and smaller fish. Some larger species of shark may feat on sea lions, seals and other somewhat bigger marine animals.

Research shows that a shark attacks humans when it is confused or curious. Humans usually make quite a splash in the water, moving a lot and making a ruckus. The sharks come to investigate, and that results in a bite.

You’ll be surprised to know that sharks are quite fearful of humans. We hunt them for their skin, meat, internal organs and fins to make lubricants, leather and soup.

Check out this amazing video where sharks are caught attacking on camera!

How Many Sharks are There in California and Where are They?

It’s difficult to count the number of sharks that infest Californian waters. The issue is that they don’t stay in the same area all year round and migrate routinely.

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However, recent conditions suggest that the population of great whites has started growing. For example, there have been many sightings of this species, with over 300 reports of great young whites in the coastal waters of northern California. But there is no way to calculate their exact numbers.

That’s not the only place, though.

For the great white sharks, the coastal waters all along California are home. They can also be found around Tomales Point, Bird Rock, Farallon Islands and Ano Neuvo Island in high concentrations.

Instances of Shark Attacks in California

Four shark attacks were reported in California last year:

Feb 26,2022 – San Miguel

An anonymous woman had a near-fatal encounter with a shark kind in the waters near San Miguel Island. Reports say that she was diving with 13 other people, all busy in lobster hunting. The victim somehow got away from the boat, and a great white shark attacked as the woman tried to swim back.

The attacker was said to be 14 to 15 feet in length.

June 22, 2022 – Pacific Grove

Avid swimmer, Stephen Bruemmer, was out in Pacific Grove some 150 yards from the shore when he piqued the interest of a great white. The predator quickly caught up with him and attacked him.

Other swimmers on the beach saw it go down, heard him scream and ran to rescue him. He was taken to the hospital with injuries on his leg, torso and arm.

October 2, 2022 – Centerville

This time, 31-year-old Jared Trainor was surfing in the waters of Centerville Beach. As he sat waiting for the next wave, he was suddenly yanked down into the sea. An unknown assailant had taken control of him and his surfboard.

He punched and kicked until he was let go.

The 19-inch gash on his leg and the condition of his surfboard clearly told of escape from a great white shark. The wound had to be sealed shut by doctors.

November 4, 2022 – San Diego

50-year-old Lyn Jutronich went swimming with friends at the beach in Del Mar, near San Diego.

The incident occurred around 10 a.m. local time off a beach in Del Mar, north of San Diego. She was 200 yards offshore when she felt something really hard hit her on the legs. Before she could make sense of the situation, she was pushed up and out of the water.

By now, she was certain she was being pursued by a shark. But before she could call for help, it bit her on the leg and started to shake her before letting her go.

Jutronich waved to the lifeguards who came and rescued her, bringing her ashore. Thankfully it was a shallow bite, and she escaped relatively unscathed.  

When Do White Sharks Make Their Appearance in California?

Planning a beach trip this summer?

Unfortunately, so are the sharks.

We usually head to the beach when the weather is beautiful, and the Pacific Ocean gets warmer. This is also the time of the year when the great white sharks are more likely to visit from the deep ocean.

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Their hunting season usually runs from April to October. And they get closer and closer to the shoreline in search of food. 8 am to 6 pm is peak shark time. But they have been spotted close to the beach at dawn and dusk as well.

So, it is best to avoid swimming alone or late at night if you don’t want to be shark chow.

Still, the chances of being seen or attacked are quite small. But better safe than sorry. Right?

Learn more about this apex predator in this National Geographic documentary!

How to Stay Safe in California Waters

Despite what mainstream media and popular opinions tell you, the great whites are out hunting humans. Shark attacks are usually a case of mistaken identity. In other words, humans look like big fat seals underwater, and one bite lets the shark know that we aren’t nearly as appetizing as them. That’s why they leave after taking a bite.

Incidents of shark attacks are usually unprovoked, and most people get attacked when they unknowingly swim too close to or enter shark territory. Average beach-goers who stick to the shoreline always remain safe.

So, it’s understandable why scuba divers and surfers are the most likely to be attacked. Sports like kayaking and tubing might also make you vulnerable, but the likelihood is very low. Moreover, swimmers are the target of these unprovoked shark attacks only 11% of the times.

Still, make sure to enter the ocean only when you have a friend along. This reduces the chances of a shark approaching and attacking you. Don’t splash around unnecessarily; keep the party out of the waters. And, never ever go into the water with an open wound bleeding.

Moreover, avoid wearing clothes or using boats and kayaks that are brightly colored or have a solid contrast. These attract the shark to check out what’s shining in the waters. Always read the shark advisories in your area and avoid swimming in the ocean if your beach tells you to.

Finally, don’t think that you are safe in shallow waters. Sharks have been known to attack in 3 feet of water too. While the chances of this happening are low, they are never zero. So, stay alert.

Final Thoughts

Sharks have slow digestion and a greater proportion of bone to muscle & fat compared to us.

The simple fact is that humans simply don’t offer the kind of nutrition sharks need to survive. It’s all empty calories, and for once, that’s a good thing. In most instances, great white sharks take one bite, do a little nudge and push, and then break contact to return to deeper waters.

However, they may bite at the wrong place, resulting in organ loss or extreme blood loss. These are reasons for the rate cases of fatalities.

It is illegal to trap, feed, bait, use towing decoys and cage dive in most places across California. It’s not the animal’s fault that we are encroaching into their territories.

Sometimes, they have no option but to tell us that they are still the king of the oceans and we are mere visitors. And it should stay that way.

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Nadine Oraby

My name is Nadine; I am a passionate writer and a pet lover. People usually call me by the nickname “Joy” because they think that I am a positive and joyful person who is a child at heart. My love for animals triggered me to create this blog. Articles are written by vets, pet experts, and me. Thanks for visiting. Your friend, Nadine!

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