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California's crazy shark week

October 25, 2012|By Paul Whitefield
  • The surfboard that 39-year-old Francisco Javier Solorio Jr. was riding when he was fatally attacked by a shark Tuesday bears evidence of the encounter.
The surfboard that 39-year-old Francisco Javier Solorio Jr. was riding… (Santa Barbara County Sheriff's…)

If news really does come in threes, Californians had better be careful, because we seem to be having our very own shark week.

First, in San Juan Capistrano on Monday, golfers at the San Juan Hills Golf Club got a surprise when a live leopard shark dropped from the sky.

That’s right: It’s raining sharks.

Actually, authorities believe the two-foot-long fish had been plucked from the sea by a bird -- probably a peregrine falcon or an osprey -- which then lost its lunch, so to speak, over the course.

And, proving that leopard sharks are tough cookies, this one not only survived its flight and crash landing but also a trip, in a bucket of water, five miles back to the ocean, driven there by a helpful golf course worker. Put back in the water, it promptly swam off.

The happy ending for the leopard shark came in the same week, though, that tragedy struck hundreds of miles north near Lompoc. Surfer Francisco Javier Solorio Jr. was killed Tuesday by what authorities say was a 15- to 16-foot great white shark. It was the second fatal attack at the beach in two years.

The two events, of course, have nothing in common except that they involved sharks and they are exceedingly rare. The death of Solorio, for example, was only the 13th known fatal shark attack in California waters since 1950.

But there is an interesting theory about shark attacks, at least regarding surfers. In surfing’s infancy, the boards were typically long.  But as the sport has matured, shorter boards have become more popular. Seen from below, the surfers on these short boards appear startlingly similar to one of the great white’s main food sources, seals.

Still, amid this week’s shark stories, both humorous and tragic, it’s worth keeping in mind that when it comes to man and sharks, the sharks are most often the loser. A San Francisco-based group, WildAid, estimates that as many as 73 million sharks are killed each year, many for their fins. Which is one reason California has banned the possession, sale and distribution of shark fins.

In the Golden State, we’re able to enjoy beautiful weather, beautiful beaches and beautiful golf courses.  But sometimes -- yes, even on the golf courses -- there’s beauty, and there's the beast.

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