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Beachgoers abuzz about sharks

Times Staff Writer

Just who do those deadly looking fins slicing the waters off Huntington Beach belong to?

Rumors of great white shark sightings along the Southern California coast in recent weeks are the buzz of the beach, leaving a few surfers spooked.

Tom Larkin is convinced that a shark jolted his surfboard and left what looks like a bite mark on the back end while he waited for a wave in the waters near Bolsa Chica State Beach earlier this month.

After paddling in as his damaged surfboard took on water, the 26-year-old stock analyst from Manhattan Beach said he “proceeded to freak out in the parking lot. I don’t know what else it could have been.”

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But Huntington Beach lifeguards dismiss the reports as hogwash -- even though great whites have been spotted in the area in years past.

“As far as we know, there’s not any evidence there’s great whites in our vicinity,” said marine safety officer Steve Reuter of the Huntington Beach city lifeguards.

And Los Angeles County lifeguard patrols haven’t recorded any unusual sightings, said Capt. Terry Harvey.

“It’s springtime; people are saying ‘shark’ and they’re freaking out,” Reuter said.

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Surfers and swimmers are more likely to encounter less-dangerous thresher, blue or nurse sharks, Reuter said. In other words: “I would call it shenanigans.”

Reuter’s only recent shark-related incident was an injured 3-foot mako shark that washed ashore, thrashing around in pain. After bystanders tried to pet the dying animal -- which normally stays in deep water -- lifeguards had to destroy it, he said.

A nonprofit research website (www.sharkresearchcommittee.com/index.html) lists four eyewitness reports of shark sightings this month -- in Huntington Beach, Santa Monica and San Onofre State Beach, most of which is in San Diego County.

But “dolphins are easily mistaken by the untrained eye” for sharks, and migrating whales are on the move, said Joe Milligan, park superintendent at Huntington and Bolsa Chica state beaches.

Although no employees or visitors have reported spotting sharks, “the fact of the matter is, the ocean is full of all kinds of creatures and it’s healthy,” Milligan said. “That’s where they’re supposed to be.”

And the surfing competition underway this week at the Huntington Beach Pier is in full swing, undeterred by gossip of predator-infested waters.

Alison Sheltrown, a marketing manager for www.surfline.com, has another theory: The rumors, she said, are just a ploy “to keep everyone out of the water because it’s spring break.”

Local surfers, she said, want to keep the waves for themselves.

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susannah.rosenblatt@latimes.com


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