Sharks along the Mendocino Coast

I was sitting on a bench outside our layout here in Fort Bragg sipping a cup of java when a lady approached. She asked me if I lived here. “Yes,” I replied. She explained that her young son was seeing the sea for the first time (they lived in Indiana) and he had some questions. Would I mind talking to him. “No prob.”

Micheal was about 5 and his sister about 7. I assumed (how wrong can you be) that the questions would be about trains and/or model trains. Micheal and his sister wanted to know about sharks!!!!!!! Q1 – had I ever been bitten by a shark? “er, no.” Q2 – had I ever seen a shark? “Yes, but only in the Monterey Aquarium.” Q3 – were there sharks off the beach in Fort Bragg? “Yes.” Q4 – did I know anyone who had been killed by a shark. Q4 turned out to be a two part question – had anyone been killed by a shark along the Mendocino Coast and did I know anyone who had been bitten by a shark. The second part was easy – I don’t know anyone who has been bitten by a shark. As for the first part I told him I would write a blog that he, his sister and mom could read with what I could find out.

After checking around for quite a bit I found this shortish article,  “20 Things You Didn’t Know About Sharks” by Gemma Tarlach.

  1. SHAAARK! Did you just get a mental image of a gaping mouth and pointy teeth? Think again.There are roughly 500 known species of shark and they vary in size, shape, environment and diet.

    Types of Shark

    Types of Shark

  2. Living shark species range from a few that could fit in your hand, such as the dwarf lantern shark, to a few you could fit inside, including the whale shark, which grows up to 40 feet long.
  3. Angelsharks are nearly flat,like the rays and skates to which sharks are closely related, while sawsharks have a toothy snout that can be almost as long as their cylindrical bodies.
  4. Sharks ply the waters of every ocean, from shallow,brackish estuaries to depths of nearly 10,000 feet.
  5. Deep-sea dwelling Mitsukurina owstoni, the goblin shark, is the oldest living species among lamniform sharks, which go back about 125 million years and today include great whites, threshers and makos.
  6. The first sharks evolved 400 million to 455 million years ago, but sharks’ flexible cartilage skeletons are rarely preserved, so the earliest species left little behind in the fossil record.
  7. Fossilized denticles, tiny tooth-shaped scales that once covered their skin,are the oldest evidence we have for sharks though researchers disagree on whether denticles alone are enough classify a species as a shark.
  8. A few things make a shark truly sharky: All sharks have jawbones and multiple gill openings, and, unlike the vast majority of other fish species, have a skeleton of cartilage rather than bone.

    Parts of a shark

    Parts of a shark

  9. And while bony fish have an air-filled swim bladder to control buoyancy, sharks don’t. They use their large, oily livers as a kind of internal flotation device.
  10. Many shark species are like most fish, coldblooded, but some are warm blooded, including the great white shark.
  11. Having a core body temperature that’s warmer than the water gives these animals all kinds of speed: they grow faster, swim faster and hunt more efficiently. The trade-off is that they need to eat up to 10 times more than a similarly sized cold blooded cousin.
  12. You might assume a shark get-together turns into a feeding frenzy when food is around. But apparently it’s more of a dinner party. Researchers who observed great white sharks scavenge a whale carcass off the coast of South Africa found that multiple animals fed beside each other at the same time, displaying relaxed behavior such as a belly-up posture and a lack of ocular rotation.
  13. Ocular rotation is, well, let’s let Jaws’ obsessive shark hunter Quint explain it: “The thing about a shark, he’s got lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll’s eye … he bites ya, and those black eyes roll over white.”
  14. Quint got it half right. Only some species of shark, including the great white, use ocular rotation to protect their eyes. Other species guard their vision with a third eyelid called a nictitating membrane.

    Blacktip shark

    Blacktip shark

  15. The movie Jaws portrayed sharks as villains, and some etymologists believe the word shark may derive from earlier German and Dutch words for shifty characters. We can still see the connection in today’s loan sharks and card sharks.
  16. Other researchers believe the word comes from Xoc (pronounced “shoke”) in Yucatec, a Maya language. According to this theory, English sailors visiting Caribbean waters in the 16th century picked up the local word for the “great fish.”
  17. And talk about great: At more than 50 feet long, Carcharocles megalodon was the largest shark that ever lived before it went extinct about 2.6 million years ago.
  18. Yet even C. megalodon was little once well, relatively speaking. In 2010, paleontologists announced they’d found a 10 million-year-old megalodon nursery on the coast of Panama with newborns measuring more than 6 feet long.
  19. While we’re talking big fish tales, you may have heard sharks don’t get cancer. That’s a load of rotten mackerel. Sharks do get cancer and we’ve known that since at least 1908, when a malignant tumor was found in a blue shark.
  20. Humans perceive sharks as a threat, but the opposite is true. Up to 100 million sharks are killed each year by finning: Fishermen cut off a shark’s dorsal fin to sell as a delicacy and dump the wounded animal back into the ocean to die. The practice imperils not only sharks, but entire food chains, which are disrupted as the animals’ numbers dwindle.

How’s them apples!!!!

Shark attack table

Shark attack table

Have there been any fatal shark attacks  along the Mendocino coast. As best as I can find out there has been one –  Randy Fry.

This is part of a report of Randy Fry’s death in the Press Democrat

FORT BRAGG – The Coast Guard on Monday recovered the headless body of a nationally known sport fishing advocate who was killed Sunday by a great white shark while diving for abalone off the Mendocino Coast. Randall “Randy” Fry’s death is only the 10th fatality ever recorded along the West Coast from an encounter with the white shark, the ocean’s deadliest predator. It is the first fatal shark attack on California’s North Coast in at least a half-century. Since 1959, 16 other people have been attacked by sharks off Mendocino, Sonoma and Marin counties, but all survived. The shark, estimated to be 16 to 18 feet long, struck the 50-year-old Auburn man at about 4 p.m. Sunday in shallow water north of Ten Mile River Beach near Westport.

“It was over in five seconds,” said Red Bartley of Modesto, a friend of the victim’s, who witnessed the fatal encounter from a boat. Cliff Zimmerman of Fort Bragg was in the water with Fry but escaped injury. Bartley, president of the California Striped Bass Association, said he helped Zimmerman out of the water and into the boat before making a mayday call for help. “When I saw the pool of blood spread across the surface of the water, I knew Randy was gone,” Bartley said.

The three men had put their boat in the water in a sheltered cove at Kibesillah Rock, about 10 miles north of Fort Bragg. Fry and Zimmerman, longtime friends, had dived together at the site in search of abalone for 30 years. The men knew it was shark territory, but like many divers, they believed the chances of an encounter were minimal.

“Despite a public fear of sharks, the fact is attacks are rare and experienced divers and surfers know that,” said Sean Van Sommeran, director of the Pelagic Shark Research Foundation in Santa Cruz. The shark may have mistaken Fry for a seal or sea lion, Van Sommeran said. Fry was diving head first in about 15 feet of water when he was attacked. The shark apparently ripped Fry’s head and neck from his body, a move sharks usually reserve for their preferred targets – seals or sea lions.

The cove where Sunday’s fatal attack occurred is sheltered by sheer, steep cliffs that make it accessible only by boat. As gruesome as the attack was, Miller said he doesn’t believe Fry suffered. “It was so quick I don’t think he had a chance to feel anything,” Miller said. Fry was described by friends and colleagues as a warm, witty man, experienced in diving and all areas of sport fishing. “He was not some average diver. He knew where he was, and what he was doing,” said Jim Martin, a Fort Bragg fishery advocate.

Micheal, I hope this answers your questions.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *