There’s that moment, that split second, that you have to wonder what to do with the thrashing, enraged great white shark that’s stuck on the sand.
The species is illegal to catch, so when an angler unknowingly reeled a 500-pound, eight-foot-long great white shark onto the shore at Sunset Beach about 2 p.m. Tuesday, there was no choice but to get it back in the water.
“They didn’t want to get bit, obviously,” said Huntington Beach Marine Safety Officer Michael Bartlett, who was patrolling the area and approached just as five men were pushing a great white back into the sea. “They were hesitant to touch it ... five guys were able to pull it back into the water.”
In Bartlett’s 31 years of lifeguarding, it was the first time he’s ever seen a great white shark caught from shore, he said. But it was the latest in a series of great white incidents in recent weeks.
“To think an eight-footer is that close to shore is incredible, and a little spooky to think about,” he said. “It’s always in the back of my mind.”
Just like a week ago when a shark was hooked from the Huntington Beach Pier – but freed when the line broke – the area was put under a 24-hour advisory. There were no closures, because at 7-to 8-feet-long, the sharks are still considered juveniles.
When Bartlett announced the advisory to five surfers in the area, they decided they had caught enough waves for the day.
“It was their discretion if they wanted to go back in the water,” he said. “None of them wanted to go back in the water. They decided to come back another day.”
“Apparently they snagged this thing and battled it for about an hour,” he said. “They had some pretty serious line and tackle.”
The anglers said they were looking for thresher sharks. “They knew it was a great white when they saw it,” Bartlett said.
Bartlett said in the past three years, there has been more shark action locally than in the last three decades. Experts think El Niño’s warm water kept newborns in the area, with a group that lived at Sunset Beach for about a year in 2015.
Those babies got older, and bigger. Some left the area last year, Bartlett said, while others stuck around. The ones last summer that were in the 6- to 7-foot range are now 7 to 8 feet in length.
Bartlett said as they get older and bigger, great whites will start changing their eating habits, from praying on sting rays to small mammals such as sea lions and dolphins.
“At some point, they have to change their feeding patterns,” Bartlett said. “They are a predator, they are looking to feed and eat something that will support their hunger. Our concern is to let people know what’s going on. We don’t want to see anyone get hurt in the process.”
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