A 13-year-old boy diving for lobster was attacked by a shark Saturday morning near Beacon’s Beach in Encinitas, leaving him with traumatic upper body wounds, authorities said.
The attack occurred just before 7 a.m. off Neptune Avenue at the foot of Leucadia Boulevard, an hour into opening day of the lobster diving season.
The San Diego County teen was in critical condition in the intensive care unit at Rady Children’s Hospital, said hospital spokesman Carlos Delgado.
Dr. Tim Fairbanks, chief pediatric surgeon, said the boy was taken into surgery after being stabilized.
“This is a rare injury,” Fairbanks said in a brief news conference Saturday afternoon outside the emergency room. “This is not something we see much of, to be honest with you.”
The physician spoke on behalf of the boy’s family, sending a message of thanks to the bystanders who came to his aid. Otherwise, the family requested privacy.
The hospital released a photo of the victim on behalf of the family but did not release his name.
Lobster diving season opened at 6 a.m. Saturday, and the coastline was filled with several enthusiastic hunters when the boy’s screams rang out over the water, about 200 yards from shore.
Chad Hammel was hunting with two friends — an off-duty Oceanside police officer and a state parks lifeguard — when they heard what seemed like a diver’s excited squeals after a catch.
But then, “I realized he was yelling, ‘I got bit, help, help!’” Hammel told OnScene TV and other news crews on the beach.
The trio pulled the bleeding boy onto their kayak. The rescuers applied pressure to the wound, called for help and shouted for other divers to exit the water.
“His whole clavicle was ripped open,” Hammel said of the victim. ”We told him he’s going to be OK, he’s going to be all right — we got help. I yelled at everyone to get out of the water: ‘There’s a shark in the water!'”
As the rescuers headed to shore, Hammel looked back.
“The shark was behind the kayak,” he told reporters. “He didn’t want to give up yet.”
The victim was conscious as he was airlifted to the hospital, Encinitas lifeguard Capt. Larry Giles said.
The boy’s mother was on the beach at the time of the attack, which occurred in about 9 feet of water, Giles said.
Witnesses described the shark as about 11 feet long, Giles said, although the species was not known. Hammel told reporters that it might have been a great white.
Authorities are investigating with help from Chris Lowe, director of the Shark Lab at Cal State Long Beach. “Once we know more about the details of the incident, we may be able to determine the species involved and provide advice for future beach precautions” based on knowledge of shark behavior, Lowe said in a statement.
A shark had been spotted in the area a few weeks earlier, Giles said. An investigation that included showing witnesses photos of various kinds of sharks determined that it was not a species that is considered a threat to people.
“Over 135 species live in this area,” Giles noted. “This is their natural environment.”
Authorities have closed the coastline from Ponto Beach in Carlsbad to Swami’s Beach in Encinitas for the next 48 hours. The Stone Steps Invitational Surf Contest scheduled for Saturday has been canceled.
“We’re asking people not to go in the water,” Giles said.
Lifeguard boats and personal watercraft were patrolling the shore Saturday, and a sheriff’s helicopter monitored overhead. If no shark sightings are reported after 48 hours, the beaches will likely be reopened.
Shark bites are extremely rare and generally happen when the fish mistakes swimmers or surfers for sea lions or other marine animals, scientists believe.
Still, a number of attacks have occurred along the California coast over the years.
In November of 2017, a spear fisherman was badly injured in a shark attack off California's Central Coast. The man was several yards offshore at Pebble Beach when he was bitten in his right thigh.
In April of the same year, a 35-year-old woman was attacked by a shark at a popular surf spot at San Onofre Beach in San Diego County, authorities said. The shark ripped muscle and flesh from her leg and briefly dragged the woman under the water.
In July 2014, a great white shark attacked a swimmer near the pier in Manhattan Beach. The man suffered a bite wound on the right side of his rib cage.
In 2012, a 39-year-old man surfing off the Santa Barbara County coast was killed in a shark attack that occurred off the same beach where a bodyboarder was killed two years earlier.
Over the years surveys have found that there are about 2,400 great white sharks living in California waters, but scientists suspect that number has grown because of improved ocean water quality and warmer ocean temperatures.
Many great white sharks migrate to warmer waters in Mexico during the winter.
Union-Tribune staff writers Greg Moran and Pauline Repard contributed to this report.