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Shark sighting in Santa Monica Bay has surfers buzzing

Photos taken Saturday morning near Pacific Palisades show a large white shark leaping from the water. The sharks aren't endangering anyone, an L.A. County Fire Department official says.

October 08, 2009|Robert J. Lopez

Many surfers who ride waves at beaches in the Santa Monica Bay will tell you they don't think about sharks. But photos that a longtime local surfer said he shot last week have created a buzz about "Jaws" in the lineup.

The photos, taken Saturday morning by Randy Wright, apparently show a large white shark jumping out of the waters off Sunset Beach near Pacific Palisades.

"It was like, 'Oh my God,' " Wright said Wednesday. "I was really stoked. . . . It was definitely a fascinating experience."

Wright, who owns Horizons West surf shop in Santa Monica, said he was in his 10-foot kayak about 300 yards from the beach lifeguard tower when he snapped a series of photos capturing the shark as it broke the surface of the water.

It was about the same size as his kayak, he said.

Wright said he was in the water as a volunteer for the nonprofit Shark Research Committee, which conducts research on sharks and documents attacks on humans.

He said he had heard that someone had spotted a shark at the beach the previous day.

So Wright went out the next morning about 8:30 with his waterproof camera.

"I was just sitting out there in my kayak, not throwing chum or anything," Wright said.

Ralph Collier, head of the committee, said that sharks in the area are nothing new.

With more people surfing and enjoying the water, he said, the potential for shark sightings has increased.

"Those little critters have been out there for thousands of years," said Collier, author of "Shark Attacks of the Twentieth Century: From the Pacific Coast of North America."

The photos were posted on the committee's website with a report by Wright.

Word spread after the sighting was mentioned in local TV reports and surf blogs.

Officials with the Los Angeles County Fire Department, which oversees lifeguard operations, said Wednesday that they were aware of the photos and assumed they were legitimate.

"It's a healthy ecosystem out there, and we know there's sharks in the water," said Fire Department spokesman Matt Levesque.

The sharks, he said, are "not endangering anyone."

Still, some surfers said the shark photos have caused them to think twice when paddling into the water.

"It was a little chilling," said Guy Okazaki, a Venice surfer and surfboard shaper who saw the photos on the Internet. "That was a big critter. It could take your leg off."

As for Wright, he said he has been surfing for about 30 years, and he isn't going to stop now.

"I'm part of the food chain when I'm in the [surf] lineup. I could get bit," he said. "But it hasn't happened yet."

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robert.lopez@latimes.com

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