Shark attacks nearly double off West Coast in 2017, with kayakers at most risk

One shark rammed a kayak, flipping it over, in Monterey Bay in May as horrified beach-goers caught the attack on video. In July off Santa Barbara, one shark left a bite mark 15 inches in diameter on a kayak, while on the same day another shark bit the nose off a paddle board.

And in April, a shark bit Leeanne Ericson of San Diego in the leg as she swam off San Onofre State Beach with her boyfriend.

“I felt it grab me and pull me down,” Ericson told Good Morning America in July. “I just remember thinking about my kids and him and then trying to push the shark off of me.”

In all, the West Coast experienced nine shark attacks on humans in 2017, nearly doubling the five attacks recorded in 2016, according to a Shark Research Committee report released Thursday. No one died in the 2017 attacks.

“More people are in the water today than there were 10 years ago, more people are kayaking, swimming, surfing and diving,” founder Ralph S. Collier told The Orange County Register. “As those ocean user groups go up, the likelihood these types of events are going to happen … you’re going to get more reports and you’re going to have more incidents of physical contact with sharks. That’s just a matter of numbers.”

In addition, the shark population has rebounded in recent years as a result of environmental protections. “We don’t know what their numbers are, there’s no way to get an accurate count, but we know their numbers are rebounding,” Collier told the publication.

According to the committee’s report, eight of the authenticated, unprovoked attacks in 2017 took place off the California coast, with most of those occurring north of Santa Barbara. One took place in Westport, Wash. All are believed to have involved great white sharks.

Four of the nine attacks targeted kayakers, while surfers accounted for only two attacks, Collier told The Orange County Register. Historically, 62 of the 103 incidents reported since 2000 on the West Coast have involved surfers, while only 17 involved kayakers.

Collier speculated the 2017 shark attacks involving kayaks may have been provoked by sharks trying to drive interlopers from their hunting grounds.