Stand up paddlers Mike Geraci and Darren Eudaly, both of Laguna Beach, reported seeing what they believed to be an eight-foot great white shark about 150 yards offshore Agate Street Beach on Monday.
“The most frightening thing was when I saw him descend,” said Geraci, who moved to Laguna in 2009 and took up paddling two years ago. “That was bad,” he said, instinctively fearing an attack from below.
But the shark never surfaced. “This didn’t swim; it was like a submarine and sank,” said Eudaly, a professional surfer who has seen other white sharks known to frequent shallow waters near a favorite surf spot, San Onofre State Beach. “I definitely think it was out of the norm,” he said.
No one else reported any sightings, said Laguna Beach Marine Safety Lt. Scott Diederich, who pointed out that mako, thresher and blue sharks also inhabit local waters. “All have been seen off our coast,” he said.
In fact, sightings of baby white sharks in Southern California waters between March and September when grunion are running would be expected, according to Ralph S. Collier, whose Shark Research Committee documents the species and tracks attacks. And a grunion run took place locally April 8-11, Diederich said.
“White sharks are in and around Laguna at this time of year,” said Collier, who speculated that the shark Garaci and Eudaly spotted was probably about five years old and just moving through the area.
The majority of attacks involving divers, swimmers and surfers have involved great white sharks, according to the Shark Reseach Committee website. Since 2000, 66 attacks, including four fatalities, have been documented along the entire California and Oregon coast where sharks are observed, Collier said. The most recent fatality was in October 2010 and involved a boogie boarder near Vandenberg Air Force Base, according to the website.
On Monday, Geraci and Eudaly were paddling in 25 feet of water on the far side of a kelp bed, chasing a group of seals and dolphins that were jumping ahead of them. Geraci recalls seeing a seal look back. The movement drew Eudaly’s attention too. He in turn swiveled around and saw a huge dark mass coming up behind Geraci. “That’s not a dolphin, dude. That’s a shark,” Eudaly recalled saying.
“I saw him for four seconds, long enough to identify him and it was huge,” said Geraci, whose board is nearly 12 feet. “What stood out was the girth of his belly. He was so thick and wide. The white belly was very visible.”
“Mike thought he saw a ghost. He was shaking,” said Eudaly, who noted the exceptionally clear water quality of recent days.
Collier, who has spent 49 years documenting shark behavior, pointed out that “if that animal had been hunting, it would have been moving quickly.” Sharks subsist on fish until they reach eight to 10 feet in length and then expand their diet by preying on marine mammals, he said.
Despite seeing the huge creature, Geraci and Eudaly stayed in the water on Monday. “It’s a fact of the beautiful marine life we all love; the food chain has blossomed in the last two years,” Geraci said. “New growth in kelp yields the apex predators.”