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Beachgoers Focusing on Sharks

Three great whites cruising off San Onofre aren't deemed a threat, but caution is advised.

August 27, 2003|David Haldane | Times Staff Writer

State lifeguards and hundreds of onlookers continued their surveillance Tuesday of three great white sharks seen in recent days off San Onofre State Beach in San Diego County.

"They're putting on a show every afternoon, and several hundred people have been coming down to watch them," lifeguard supervisor Steve Long said.

The sharks are believed to be juvenile whites about 6 to 7 feet long. "They're cruising back and forth, patrolling along a reef anywhere from 50 feet to 300 yards offshore."

Surfers, some of whom have been within inches of the animals, have given them names: Sparky, Fluffy and Archie.

"A couple of the surfers say they feel they've been bumped by the sharks," Long said. The animals "are swimming right between the surfers on their boards. I was out on a paddle board and had one within inches underneath me. They are very impressive."

The sightings, which Long now believes were all associated with the same three sharks, began in late June and gradually increased through the summer. Last week, experts finally documented and identified the three great whites, he said.

"They're probably working over the reef for small fish and other food," he said. "There's a good habitat out there with enough food to support them."

The beach has remained open to swimmers and surfers, Long said, because neither Sparky nor his friends appears to pose any immediate danger to humans. "At this point we haven't seen any type of behavior to indicate that they are a threat or a danger," he said.

In fact, Long said, some experts fear more for the sharks. "Our concern is protecting the animals in their environment. We are asking people not to molest them."

Still, he admitted, the animals "do have very powerful jaws and serious teeth."

As a precaution, Long said, signs have been posted informing visitors of the sharks' presence, and a lifeguard has been assigned to point out potential dangers.

The experts have advice for those who venture into the water. For swimmers and bodyboarders: Stay in shallow water. For surfers: Keep hands and feet on boards as the sharks go by.

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