Great White Shark Attack

On Monday, August 2, shortly after 7:00AM, I launched my sea kayak from Gaviota State Beach in Southern California to cross to three oil rigs, Heritage, Harmony, and Hondo. I was crossing to all 23 oil rigs in Southern California to raise awareness of them after the oil rig disaster in Louisiana. The three oil rigs offshore from Gaviota State Beach were my last ones.

The weather was perfect, and I was making great time on the 24 nautical mile loop. Oil rig Hondo was the last one I crossed to for the day. I stopped by its mooring buoy to take a photo of it with the oil rig in the background. As usual for the oil rig mooring buoys, sea lions were on and around it. I always thought these mooring buoys would be a great place for great white sharks to hang out.

I left oil rig Hondo at about noon to begin the 7 nautical mile crossing at a heading of 300 degrees to get back to Gaviota State Beach. Because of fog, I couldn’t see the coast and was steering by compass. I was paddling hard to get back before a headwind picked up. My kayak was made of plywood and fiberglass, and painted red. It had hard chines and no rudder or skeg. I was using a Greenland style paddle with long narrow blades.

shark2Without warning at about 12:40PM, when I was around 5 nautical miles from Gaviota State Beach, a great white shark, which I estimated to be at least 15 feet long, bit and held onto my kayak. It attacked from my left side, with its head coming up from the water only a few feet from my kayak. There was not a hard impact. It bit my kayak where my left foot was located inside the hull, and its mouth wrapped half way around the hull. My left foot was actually inside the jaws of the shark but protected by the kayak.

The shark held onto my kayak for 10-15 seconds, during which it seemed relaxed and was not moving. Its head was huge, and I remember seeing its eye and a hole on the side of its head, as well as its gray skin. I put the left tip of my paddle against the shark’s head, and I thought about hitting the shark, but I didn’t want to anger it or make it thrash. The whole time the shark was latched onto the kayak with my foot inside, I was screaming like a little girl.

After the longest 10-15 seconds in my life, the shark gently let go of the kayak and slid back into the water. I wasn’t knocked off balance and did not have to brace to stay upright. A few seconds later and about 15-20 feet in front of my kayak, I saw the tail fin of the shark break the surface and powerfully whip around, like the shark was coming back at me for a second strike, but it never happened.

shark3After waiting a few seconds I started paddling again. Frequently, I checked behind me to see if the shark was following, but I didn’t see it. After a few minutes I felt confident the shark was gone.

As I kept paddling back to Gaviota State Beach, I could feel water leaking onto my legs in the cockpit area. The leak was rather slow, and I stopped about every mile to remove the water with a hand pump. I was not hurt at all, but I could see bite marks on my deck. I was carrying a VHF marine radio but felt I could make it back to shore on my own, so I didn’t use it.

Shortly before 2:00PM, I landed at Gaviota State Beach and immediately informed the lifeguard, who called his supervisor. A state park ranger took photos and a report.

Fortunately for me, the great white shark bit down on my kayak where the front bulkhead was located. In addition to the leak in the cockpit area, there was a small leak in the front hatch area on the other side of the bulkhead, where I had about a quart of water.

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