Great white shark killed bodyboarder in Morro Bay last year, officials say

A sign reads 'Fatal shark attack'
A sign advises about the Dec. 24 shark attack in Morro Bay.
(David Middlecamp / San Luis Obispo Tribune)
Share via

The shark that fatally attacked a bodyboarder in Morro Bay in December was a great white, officials confirmed.

According to a San Luis Obispo County coroner’s report released this month, Tomas Abraham Butterfield, 42, died from “complications of multiple penetrating blunt force trauma injuries” after suffering multiple shark bites.

He was bitten on his head, right shoulder and the right side of his chest, according to the autopsy report, whose contents were first reported Tuesday by the San Luis Obispo Tribune after a public records request.


Butterfield died within minutes of the attack, pathologist Dr. Joye Carter found.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife later confirmed through DNA samples that the shark was a great white, and based on the size of Butterfield’s bite wounds, it was estimated to be about 16 feet long.

A family grieves and a surfing community is wary after a great white shark kills a 42-year-old body boarder in Morro Bay on Christmas Eve.

Jan. 2, 2022

On Christmas Eve, the day of the shark attack, Butterfield headed into the Pacific Ocean with his wetsuit, fins and a bodyboard around 10 a.m. He was spending the holidays visiting his mother in Morro Bay, where he entered the waters at a spot just north of Morro Rock known to locals as “the Pit.” The ocean was turbulent, but Butterfield was an avid outdoor enthusiast.

Less than 45 minutes later, a surfer spotted his body floating in the water.

Fellow surfers pulled Butterfield to the beach.

San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Det. William Miller said it was clear that Butterfield had been attacked by a shark when he saw the man’s body lying face up on the bodyboard on the beach, according to the autopsy report.

Injuries to Butterfield’s body included head wounds and a “gaping injury” that extended from his back to his chest and abdomen, Carter wrote. The coroner’s report found no evidence of foul play or the presence of drugs or alcohol in Butterfield’s system.

Authorities returned Butterfield’s belongings to his relatives, including his torn wetsuit and a shark tooth fragment that went to his brother, according to the report.

Butterfield is the second victim of a fatal shark attack in San Luis Obispo County in the last several decades, according to John Ugoretz, environmental program manager with the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s marine study division.


“Shark incidents are extremely rare,” Ugoretz said when reached by phone. “Since the 1950s, there have been 15 fatalities in the state of California.”

The Shark Lab at Cal State Long Beach analyzed the DNA samples from the incident, according to Ugoretz. There were no reports of shark sightings before the attack on Christmas Eve.