A long-distance ocean swimmer who was attacked by a great white shark at Manhattan Beach over the weekend said he stared the predator in the eye as it sunk its teeth into his chest before finally releasing him.
Steven Robles, a 50-year-old real estate professional from Lomita, told KTLA on Sunday that he saw the 7-foot juvenile shark just moments before it "lunged" at him and bit into the right side of his chest.
The sharks are known for attacking prey from below, where they can make out silhouettes against the lighter surface -- and this case was no different, Robles recalled.
"The shark came up surface from the bottom, I saw him swimming right in front of me then he made a very sharp left and lunged right at my chest," Robles told KTLA. "I was staring eyeball to eyeball with this shark."
The attack occurred about 9:30 a.m. Saturday when fishermen off the Manhattan Beach Pier caught the juvenile predator on a fishing line then struggled with the shark for some 45 minutes. As the battle ensued, Robles and others who were swimming from the Hermosa Beach pier to the Manhattan Beach Pier crossed the shark's path and Robles was bit.
"But I grabbed his nose and with this hand and started pushing him, trying to pry him off my chest and he released himself and swam away immediately," Robles recalled, his right hand and forearm in a cast and stitches poking out from his wounds. "I never saw him again."
Robles suffered a single bite wound on the right side of his rib cage and was helped to shore by some surfers. He was taken to Harbor UCLA Medical Center for treatment.
"I still feel pretty shaken up," he told CNN on Sunday. "It was pretty scary out there."
Robles' wife, Glenda, told KTLA she was thankful her husband "has a second chance."
Witnesses told authorities that 45 minutes earlier the shark bit a baited hook at the end of a fishing line thrown by a fisherman from the edge of the pier and was thrashing around in the water when it bit the swimmer.
Almost immediately, rumors spread that the fishermen had thrown chum into the water, specifically to attract the young great whites, which are common in the area.
This wasn't the case, according to the fisherman and Eric Martin, the co-director of Roundhouse Marine Studies Lab and Aquarium, which is located at the end of the pier.
The fisherman asked to be identified only by his first name, Jason, out of concern for his safety from angry swimmers and surfers.
He said he and two friends arrived at the pier at about 5 a.m. Their goal was to catch large bat rays, which they catch and release. They'd gone to other piers in recent months because fishermen were hooking mainly great whites at Manhattan Beach, which are not their target, he said.
Their bait was frozen sardines, which they attached to their fishing hooks, but nothing was biting, Jason said, and they were thinking of going home when one of his friends got a mighty pull.
"He was trying to get off the line," said Capt. Tracy Lizotte, a Los Angeles County lifeguard at the beach. "He was agitated and was probably biting everything in his way, and then the swimmer swam right into the shark's line."
Lizotte said it's not uncommon for sharks to swim in waters past the pier's edge.
"That's where they live," Lizotte said. "It's their home."
Great white shark sightings are on the rise at some Southern California beaches, especially in the waters off Manhattan Beach, a popular spot for surfers and paddleboarders.
Last month, local photographer Bo Bridges used a drone to film a great white shark swimming close to paddleboarders in Manhattan Beach. He spotted the shark about 100 feet off the coast while he and his friends were paddleboarding.
In December, a paddleboarder shot video of three great whites between 8 and 10 feet long, circling underneath his board. Evidence of other close encounters has been posted to YouTube recently, showing the glistening predators moving around in the waters near the shore.
Many of the sharks are juveniles learning to feed and fend for themselves, said Chris Lowe, a marine biology professor at Cal State Long Beach. Researchers are still trying to figure out why Manhattan Beach is so popular for the predators.
There have been 13 shark-attack fatalities in California waters since 1950.