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Shark chases Salmon Creek surfers, expert says that’s rare

Sebastopol resident Timothy Reck has been surfing for 40 years and he estimates he’s spotted over half a dozen sharks while in the ocean.

They never fazed him until the afternoon of Dec. 22 when he said an aggressive shark pursued him and a second surfer into shallow waters along North Salmon Creek Beach.

They escaped after the shark clamped onto the leash of one of their surfboards.

“Holy crap, we were terrified because it was not backing off,” said Reck, 59, who added area surfers are now biding their time before re-entering waters along the Sonoma County Coast.

This recent sighting has reignited concerns about sharks along the California coast, as has a fatal shark attack Christmas Eve near Morro Bay, about 300 miles to the south along the Central Coast.

Experts understand such concerns, but note that sharks will likely always be present along the California coast — much more than people think. And, violent encounters with humans are typically unusual.

“(Great) white sharks are present (along) the beaches in your area all the time. There’s not really much seasonality to it. They’ve been seen pretty much every time of year,” said John Ugoretz, pelagic fisheries manager for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

He surmised Reck’s encounter may have involved a young adult shark that was learning to feed.

Sharks typically avoid humans and mostly feed on sea lions and elephant seals. Sharks may confuse surfers for prey because of their boards.

“It’s just mistaken identity when they bite people,” Ugoretz said.

According to Fish and Wildlife data, there have been 201 shark encounters along the California coast since the 1950s. Fifteen were fatal and involved great white sharks, including the one in Morro Bay.

Of those 201 encounters, 36 were along Sonoma, Mendocino and Marin counties. Of those 36, there was one fatality in Mendocino County.

In October, off North Salmon Creek Beach, Santa Rosa resident Eric Steinley survived after he was bitten by a shark. He was hospitalized for several days.

On Dec. 22, authorities were alerted of Reck’s encounter with the shark, which they described as 10 to 12 feet long.

Lifeguards cleared the water at North Salmon Creek Beach and shark warning signs were posted for 24 hours, according to the California Department of Parks and Recreation.

Conditions have since returned to normal.

Another local surfer, Nate Buck, told The Press Democrat he also spotted a shark on South Salmon Creek Beach about 30 minutes after Reck’s encounter.

Authorities said they were only aware of the first sighting and it wasn’t clear if Buck and Reck saw different sharks.

Buck, a 41-year-old lifeguard and firefighter paramedic from Salmon Creek Beach, said he felt “a strong shark intuition people get when they’re surfing or diving.”

He was about 100 yards from shore when he spotted a great white shark about 6 feet from him. It also appeared to be 10 to 12 feet long.

“It felt like I could’ve leaned over and almost touched it,” Buck said.

He quickly returned to the beach and tried to warn others about what he saw. By that point, however, beach patrol was already in the process of alerting visitors about the other sighting.

Two shark sightings in one day is significant, Buck said.

Ugoretz said “it’s not something you can predict with any certainty, so the chance of seeing a white shark is always there.”

You can reach Staff Writer Colin Atagi at colin.atagi@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @colin_atagi

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