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Shark Scare Keeps Swimmers on Shore for Holiday Weekend

August 30, 2003|Sally Ann Connell | Special to The Times

AVILA BEACH, Calif. — Swimmers will be barred from the ocean waters here throughout the holiday weekend after news that a sea lion, apparently killed by a great white shark, washed up on Fishermen's Beach.

The latest news is expected to strike the resort community hard while it is still coping with the fatal attack by a great white shark on Deborah Blanche Franzman, 50, near Avila Pier on Aug. 19.

The Port San Luis Harbor District controls Avila Beach, Old Port Beach and Fishermen's Beach in the tranquil harbor in southern San Luis Obispo County.

Water at all three beaches will be closed to swimming through at least Tuesday, although officials are allowing children and adults to wade in up to their knees, said Casey Nielsen, operations manager for the port.

The closing is part of a new harbor commission policy that calls for a five-day ban on swimming after shark sightings, attacks or when a seal or sea lion carcass washes ashore, showing evidence of shark bites.

"It was a juvenile sea lion and, after consulting with the California Department of Fish and Game and local biologists, it seemed to have a wound consistent with a great white shark," Nielsen said. The carcass was found Thursday and taken away by port officials.

A great white shark was also sighted last Saturday by anchovy bait fishermen who reported seeing it jump out of the water to bite a seal on the tail.

The shark-related news has led to bans on swimming for 10 of the last 12 days at the end of what would normally be a busy summer season. Authorities stress that the beaches are still open for sunbathing and fishing, and businesses and restaurants also remain open.

Officials and businesses say a morbid curiosity about the shark has been developing.

Nielsen said he has had to put more lifeguards on duty because interested people surround lifeguards and pepper with them with questions.

And, people have stolen important "shark warning" signs.

"We paid $800 for signs, and the majority of them were gone within three days," he said. "They serve a safety purpose, and it would be a shame for some kid to realize that the sign he put up on his dorm room door could have saved somebody's life."

Michael Kidd is the president of the Avila Business Assn. and part owner of the Inn at Avila Beach.

He said that there had been some cancellations at his business last week but that those rooms had been filled by people interested in the shark news.

He said businesses support the harbor district's efforts to ensure public safety.

"I've congratulated them," Kidd said. "One death like we've had is a freak of nature. A second one would be a disaster, even if it was a freak of nature and took place 30 miles from Avila. We've got to be careful."

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