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10 shark attacks have occurred on the Central Coast since 2003. Here’s what happened

Cal Poly student describes how he survived great white shark attack

Nick Wapner, a 19-year-old Cal Poly student, was attacked by a great white shark at Montana de Oro on Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2018. He describes how he kicked the shark in the head to break free of its bite on his ankles.
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Nick Wapner, a 19-year-old Cal Poly student, was attacked by a great white shark at Montana de Oro on Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2018. He describes how he kicked the shark in the head to break free of its bite on his ankles.

A wild tale of a surfer fighting for his life while kicking away a great white shark was one of 10 reported Central Coast attacks on people over the past 15 years.

Overall, more than 100 shark attacks have been recorded in California’s coastal waters since 2003, with five resulting in death, including two along the Central Coast, according to shark expert Ralph Collier at sharkresearchcommittee.com.

Nick Wapner — the 19-year-old Cal Poly student who was bitten Tuesday morning off Sandspit Beach in Montaña de Oro — came away, saying he was “lucky to be alive.”

“Any time you enter the water, there’s a chance this can happen,” said Mike Harris, a senior environmental scientist for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “But for somebody who sees this data on a day-to-day basis of shark activity, I still get in the (ocean) water and I love the water. I’m aware of the risk and I pay attention to my surroundings. It’s for the individual to decide if the risk worth the reward.”

All but one local incident included the identity of the attack victim, save for a kayaker who, on Oct. 3, 2014, was knocked off his boat in the ocean water near Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Here are the stories:

Jan. 8, 2019 — Surfer kicks shark in the head after sudden attack at Montaña de Oro: Nick Wapner, of San Luis Obispo, was positioning himself for an incoming set of waves when he felt pressure on his legs and realized an estimated 15-foot great white shark was clamping down on both limbs. He kicked the shark in the head and freed himself, suffering deep wounds to his legs, but no damage to arteries (he received 50 stitches). Wapner rushed to shore and hiked five minutes to a car before his friend drove him to the hospital. “It all happened quickly, but I turned and saw that it had one of my legs in its mouth,” Wapner told The Tribune.

Sept. 1, 2016 – Diver uses spear gun to fend off attack at Refugio Point: A great white bit 22-year-old Tyler McQuillen’s flipper, pulling it off as he was spearfishing. After an initial “tug” to his fin, McQuillen, a college student, of Santa Barbara, realized he was in for a fight and grabbed his spear and fended off the great white with a poke after it neared him a second time. McQuillen told media outlets he feared for his life when the shark returned. Part of the incident was captured on a GoPro camera.

Aug. 29, 2015 – Surfer’s board chomped in Morro Bay: Los Osos resident Elinor Dempsey, 54, received a major scare while waiting for a wave during surfing session at Morro Strand State Beach. An estimated 11- to 12-foot great white shark took a massive chunk out of her red surfboard, leaving a half-moon hole edged in teeth marks. Dempsey was unscathed and went back into the water to surf a month later, admitting she was excited but “nervous.”

A surfer from Los Osos was uninjured Saturday, Aug. 29, 2015, after she was attacked by a great white shark. Elinor Dempsey, 54, of Los Osos, was surfing at Morro Strand Park in Morro Bay around 10:15 a.m. when the shark bit her board, leaving a 1

Dec. 28, 2014 — Surfer fashions tourniquet to stop thigh bleeding at Montana de Oro: Kevin Swanson, 50, of Morro Bay, was surfing at Sandspit Beach when his right hip and thigh were torn open by the bite of an 8- to 10-foot-long great white. The shark dragged him underwater before he was able to escape. Once he got ashore, he used his surfboard leash to fashioned a tourniquet for his leg and got help from two doctors who happened to be on the beach at the time. He told The Tribune: “My main concern then was getting to the beach, stopping the bleeding and getting help.”

A 50-year-old man was attacked by a shark at Montaña De Oro State Beach while surfing on Sunday, Dec. 28, 2014, according to authorities. (CORRECTION: The name of the person speaking in the video is Andrew Walsh, not Adam Walsh.)

Oct. 3, 2014 — Kayaker knocked into ocean at Vandenberg: While fishing from his kayak, Ryan Howell of Lompoc was thrown into the air when his boat was struck by an estimated 16- to 20-foot shark at Vandenberg Wall Beach. Howell fell into the water but was uninjured and later revealed the bite marks on his kayak. Howell witnesses another incident involving a shark attacking an unidentified kayaker the same day, he told the Santa Maria Sun.

July 5, 2014 — Surfer knocked off board at Oceano Dunes State Beach — Ron Johnson reported his board was violently struck by an estimated 8- to 9-foot shark that raised him up in the air and knocked him off his board, according to sharkresearchcommittee.com. Johnson said he hoisted himself back on his board and headed for shore, uninjured.

Oct. 22, 2010 — Body boarder killed at Vandenberg’s Surf Beach — UCSB student Lucas McKaine Ransom, 19, of Romoland in Riverside County, was fatally wounded by a large shark while body boarding. The shark bit and severed the leg of the former lifeguard and competitive swimmer, and he cried out to a friend, saying “help me, dude” before he disappeared under the water in a cloud of red, the Santa Maria Times reported.

July 2, 2010 – Surfer bitten on foot off Pismo Beach Derek Crane, 19, of San Luis Obispo, was bitten on the left foot while surfing at Silver Shoals. He described a 4-foot brown shark with dark spots. Numerous sea lions were observed along the coast at the time, and authorities issued warnings after the attack, according to Noozhawk.

Aug. 19, 2003 — Woman killed swimming near the Avila Beach Pier — Allan Hancock College professor Debbie Franzman, 50, of Nipomo, was killed by a shark while swimming among sea lions. Franzman, an avid ocean swimmer, was alone within view of beachgoers on the Avila Beach Pier and of about 30 lifeguards training on the beach. The shark came from underneath her and tore the tissue of Franzman’s thigh in a vicious attack, severing a femoral artery. Lifeguards swam to pull her from the water, but she was pronounced dead at the scene.

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Nick Wilson covers the city of San Luis Obispo and has been a reporter at The Tribune in San Luis Obispo since 2004. He also writes regularly about K-12 education, Cal Poly, Morro Bay and Los Osos. He is a graduate of UC Santa Barbara and UC Berkeley and is originally from Ojai.
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