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Probers Say Shark Victim Was Kayaking When She Was Killed

<i> Times Staff Writer</i>

Authorities said Monday they now believe a young woman apparently killed by a great white shark off the coast here had been kayaking when she was attacked.

The woman, between 18 and 26 years old, remained unidentified Monday.

Authorities said there were no plans to search for the shark, close beaches or post warnings.

“This was the first shark bite death in the county’s history . . . ,” said Ventura County Deputy Coroner James Wingate. “It’s a freak thing. Overreaction now wouldn’t serve any purpose. We don’t want to start a panic like in the movie ‘Jaws.’ ”

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Investigators found a kayak paddle near the area where the body was found. But they could not find a kayak. The woman was wearing a blue and black Spandex swimsuit, with a zip-up jacket--typical kayaking attire, authorities said.

Despite the shark attack, kayakers and surfers interviewed Monday said they do not intend to switch to more sedate sports.

At Surfer’s Point in Ventura, about 100 wave riders gathered Monday morning to surf before strong afternoon winds began to blow.

Paul Bradley, 26, said he didn’t even think of canceling his daily surfing session when he heard a radio account of the shark attack early Monday morning.

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“There are always adverse conditions,” he said. “That’s what attracts people.”

Mark Olson of Santa Barbara, a member of the California Kayak Friends, a Southern California kayaking group, said he frequently kayaks in the area where the woman’s body was found.

“I’ll see a blue shark every once in a while,” he said. “And when I see one I realize it’s best to stay calm, rather than to change directions and start paddling real fast. Sharks are attracted by the sudden churning of water. It’s like you never run from a dog. They sense your fear and will come after you.”

Jerry Gorans, a surfer from Simi Valley, expressed little concern about the shark attack as he waxed his board at Malibu.

“It (the attack) might keep some people out of the water, but not many,” he said. ". . . It’s just one of the things you live with when you go surfing.”

The woman had been dead one to two days when her body was found Saturday about six miles off Channel Island Harbor near Ventura by the crew of a sailboat, said F. Warren Lovell, Ventura County coroner. She had been bitten six times and died of loss of blood, Lovell said. Authorities believe the shark was a great white because of the size of the bite on her left thigh--about 13 inches.

There were no local missing person reports matching the victim’s description, Wingate said.

“We’re still waiting for someone to call and identify her,” he said.

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There have been 62 shark attacks in California between 1926 and 1984, less than 10% of them in Southern California. Six of those attacks have been fatal, including one in Southern California. Five of the deaths, including one off La Jolla in 1959--were blamed on great white sharks. Great whites have been known to exceed 20 feet and 3 tons.

John McCosker, one of California’s leading shark experts, warned that the area where the woman was believed to be kayaking has a high number of sharks because of an explosion in the seal and sea lion populations. As a result, attacks on humans who venture miles from the shoreline in light craft are “entirely predictable,” said McCosker, director of the Steinhart Aquarium in San Francisco.

The area in which the woman’s body was found has the heaviest concentration of sharks in Southern California, McCosker said, because it is near the Channel Islands, a large breeding ground for marine mammals.

“A lot of boat operators in that area are telling us about more and more shark attacks on sea lions and seals,” McCosker said. “So it follows that they’re going to be more attacks on people out there. A shark looks up and sees a big silhouette from something like a kayak, thinks he’s got a big elephant seal and swims up to take it.”

Steve Abel, who holds the world record for biggest blue shark ever caught on a fly rod--140 pounds--landed his record catch adjacent to the Channel Islands, not far from where the woman’s body was recovered.

“On a day’s fishing out there I’ll see between 50 and 100 mako and blue sharks,” Abel said. “And they catch a great white shark pretty much every year around here.”

Corwin reported from Santa Barbara. Also contributing were staff writers Meg Sullivan in Ventura and John H. Lee in Malibu.


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