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'Attention in the water: ... You are paddleboarding next to ... 15 great white sharks'

“Attention in the water: This is the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.… You are paddleboarding next to approximately 15 great white sharks.”

That was the chilling alert a sheriff’s chopper blared at swimmers and paddleboarders on Wednesday as it hovered above the waters off Capistrano Beach in Dana Point and San Onofre State Beach in San Clemente — the site of a shark attack two weeks ago.

Relaying a request from state parks officials, the deputy then urged the swimmers to leave the ocean.

“They are advising that you exit the water in a calm manner,” Deputy Brian Stockbridge told the swimmers. “The sharks are as close as the surf line.”

The area, he said, was “heavily populated with great white sharks.”

“Please do not enter the water,” the deputy warned.

The airborne warning was the latest in a handful of advisories issued to swimmers in recent weeks as great white sharks have migrated to the coast of Southern California after spending the winter off Baja California. At least one shark attack has been reported.

According to marine experts, California’s warm waters and abundant food supply have drawn young sharks to the coastline.

Aerial footage from an Orange County Sheriff's Department helicopter shows several great white sharks in the ocean just off San Clemente on May 10.

‘Shark sighted: Keep out’

From San Clemente to Long Beach, three separate notices were issued to swimmers Wednesday, alerting them to the presence of sharks.

In Long Beach, at least four juvenile great white sharks were spotted in shallow waters off the coast. The 5- to 6-foot-long sharks were possibly looking to feed on stingrays and small fish usually found in the shallow water near the oceanfront. The Long Beach Fire Department’s Marine Safety Unit estimates that 10 to 20 juvenile sharks swim in the area daily due to its “thriving aquatic ecosystem.”

Along with the O.C. Sheriff’s Department, authorities at Camp Pendleton urged beachgoers to steer clear of the water.

In a Facebook post, the U.S. Marine base said an aggressive shark had been seen Wednesday at a popular surfing spot known as Church at San Onofre State Beach.

Named after a chapel that once stood near the site, the surf spot was also the scene of a shark attack on April 29.

The attack and recovery

It’s been a slow recovery for Leeanne Ericson, 35, since she was bitten by a shark two weeks ago while swimming with her boyfriend at the San Onofre surf break.

In a message posted on a GoFundMe page for the Vista resident, Ericson’s mother, Christine Leidle, said, “Leeanne is breathing on her own and is able to talk to us! Her spirits are good and she was happy to have family with her.”

Ericson, a single mother of three, has undergone two operations after suffering significant blood loss when she was bitten on her right thigh and buttock, according to a statement released by her family on May 5. She will probably require several more surgeries.

Doctors were attempting to repair nerve damage to restore function to her leg, although it is unclear if she will be able to walk again.

Chris Lowe, a biology professor and director of the Shark Lab at Cal State Long Beach, said the shark that attacked Ericson was likely not full grown and mistook her for food.

Emergency responders and family of Leeanne Ericson gathered outside Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla to talk about the shark attack.
Emergency responders and family of Leeanne Ericson gathered outside Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla to talk about the shark attack. (Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla)

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