The Cambrian

Kayaker’s hammerhead shark encounter at Leffingwell Landing recalled

Lifelong fisherman Jordan Pavacich of Morro Bay left from Leffingwell Landing on Oct. 13 in his Hobie pedal kayak, hoping to catch some dinner.

He did that, but as Pavacich retreated toward calmer waters just outside the kelp bed, he also caught the attention of a hammerhead shark, a warm-water species rarely seen in this area.

The fisherman and past president of the Cambria Fishing Club estimates the shark was about 11 feet long, approximately the same length as Pavacich’s 10-foot-6-inch-long kayak.

He recalled, “I was fishing from about 2 miles out with a couple of friends, and the swell was starting to get a little high.” About 11 a.m., he headed toward shore, stopping about 100 yards outside the kelp bed “where it was nice and calm.”

Then, “out of the corner of my eye, I saw a dorsal fin, coming straight at me” toward the left rear side of the kayak.

Pavacich felt the hit, which was so hard “it moved the kayak sideways about a foot. I looked down and thought, ‘Holy smokes, it’s a hammerhead.’

“At first, I thought he’d just tested me out. Obviously I’m nothing that he’s interested in. But he went under the kayak, turned around, went under the kayak again, and then hit me again, harder, in the middle of the kayak, right under my feet.”

“Obviously, the fish was aggressive,” Pavacich said in a mastery of understatement.

With adrenaline surging, “I started pedaling, really fast, at about 4.5 mph, according to my GPS, which is really fast on a kayak,” he said. He also yelled “Hammerhead!” into the radio, to notify his two friends about the danger.

“I ran into the kelp beds, hoping this fish isn’t interested in following me there,” Pavacich said. “I kept thinking, ‘Please don’t hit my line and my bait,’ ” or there’d be a whole different scenario going on.

Why the hits?

Pavacich surmises that the hammerhead might have smelled the fish catch in the scuppers, or holding area at the rear of the kayak.

Unusually warm water has contributed to a sea change in species frequenting Central and North Coast waters this summer, according to officials at the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council meeting in Cambria Oct. 23.

A fisherman reportedly caught a hammerhead in Avila Beach on Oct. 16.

At http://animals.nationalgeographic.com, a description of hammerhead sharks says, “Found in temperate and tropical waters worldwide, far offshore and near shorelines, hammerheads are often seen in mass summer migrations seeking cooler water. …

“Most hammerhead species are fairly small and are considered harmless to humans. However, the great hammerhead’s enormous size and fierceness make it potentially dangerous, though few attacks have been recorded.”

It’s not known what type of hammerhead was hammering Pavacich’s kayak.

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