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Risk of Shark Attack at Pacifica

For many Pacificans who have grown up surfing at Linda Mar Beach, we grow up accustomed to the conditions our beach has to offer. Many surfers learn to understand the specific circumstances each season brings to the ocean, like, for example, the large and choppy waves that the winter brings. But in regards to the sea life we share the waters with, there’s almost no way of predicting what you will see and when. So how safe are our surfers in Pacifica?

The waters of Linda Mar are full of life, and you are likely to see Harbor Seals year round. Ranging from five to six feet in length, these seals can reach up to 300 pounds of pure power. Unlike the happy, positive, and friendly sea creatures depicted in movies, these seals are wild animals in their natural habitat. Their giant wolf-like fangs can cause some serious damage if aggravated. A tell-tale sign that a harbor seal is ready to attack is if they begin snorting and growling, and waving threateningly with a flipper. Hence their name, Harbor Seals typically stay close to the coast and can sometimes be spotted swimming right at the beach. These territorial creatures are rarely spotted because, according to the seal conservancy, there are only 20,000 harbor seals on the coast of California. They don’t often pose a life threatening danger to humans, but there have been a few interactions with humans of seals biting surfers, so stay alert for silver/white seals with black spots on their backs.

Sightings of Great White Sharks occur more often than many locals may expect. Great Whites (Carcharodon carcharias) are responsible for at least 180 out of the 203 shark attacks recorded in California since 1950, and thanks to popular media, most humans have a huge fear of these cold-blooded predators- and rightfully so! There have been a large handful of Great White Shark sightings in California in recent years. For example, Evan Ayers, a 19 year old local who has been surfing for 5 years, encountered a Great White at Sharp Park Beach in October of 2020. He said, “We were surfing just south of the pier. We were surfing and we saw a fin cruising by, and then [the shark] turned and it ended up being the side fin. It was a pretty big shark…It was a little spooky but there were other people out in the water [and] the shark was being pretty chill. It didn’t look aggressive at all.” How could Ayers possibly have felt safe in the water after seeing a 10 foot shark roughly 30 feet away from him?  “[The shark] wasn’t circling,” he said. “It wasn’t looking to eat us, it was looking to eat something else…It was cruising at a pretty chill speed and you could see its fin the whole time.” Areas near us such as the San Francisco Bay, and the Farallon Islands are no strangers to sharks. In Fact, the Farallon Islands are the winter water playground of adult Great White sharks measuring 15 to 20 feet long.

So what threats do Pacifica surfers actually face? Well first of all, the majority of sharks tend to swim closer to shore at dusk, dawn, and night, but it is still important to know the signs of there being a Great White near you. Learning from Ayers’s experiences, avoid piers as they attract bait fish that sharks feed on and are a very likely place for sharks to swim if they come close to shore. If you see birds diving or fish jumping, that could be an indicator that a larger predator, perhaps a shark, could be attempting to prey upon a school of fish.

David McGuire, an expert with the non-profit organization dedicated to protecting ocean habitat called Shark Stewards, said, “White sharks are commonly seen off Pacifica, especially the rocky points south where pinnipeds frequent…Linda Mar in particular is a safer place due to the high numbers of humans and shallow water of the break.”

Leo Steinberg (11), who had surfed in Pacifica many times throughout his life explained from personal experience, “In Pacifica I have never felt threatened. Linda Mar is very safe for everyone and beginners.”  

Tabitha Woods

Terra Nova High School Journalism