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Friday, December 14 , 2018, 5:59 am | Fair 50º


Families Mark Anniversaries of Shark Attacks that Killed Two Men

Longtime researcher believes several factors most likely contributed to incidents earlier this month off the Central Coast

As the families of two men united by shark attacks two years apart remember their loved ones on the anniversaries of their deaths this week, Ralph Collier of the Shark Research Committee is especially busy. 

He has reviewed two shark encounters involving kayakers off the coast of Vandenberg Air Force Base earlier this month, another in the Santa Barbara area this week and is still waiting for further investigate yet another incident where a surfer suffered a knee injury in early October.

These come as the families of Lucas Ransom, a 19-year-old UCSB student from Riverside County, and Francisco Solorio Jr., a 39-year-old Orcutt resident, remember their loved ones who died in attacks two years and a day apart — Oct. 22, 2010, for Ransom and Oct. 23, 2012, for Solorio.

The families are expected to meet up Thursday morning at Surf Beach to remember both men and release balloons. In a commemoration the Solorio family dubbed “Franfest,” the celebration of life will continue through the weekend with camping and the dedication of a bench at Jalama Beach.

Solorio’s family and friends spent last weekend prepping the bench site for its installation.

“It will be nice place to go,” said his sister, Patricia Solorio of Santa Maria. “Jalama was his favorite surf spot.”

Collier suspects a number of reasons for the attacks — and emphatically says it’s not one rogue shark roaming the ocean every other October.

“Historically, if we look at records of these interactions with humans, they occur in all months of the year,” said Collier, who has studied sharks for more than 50 years. “What we’re looking at today is a lot of it has to do with population dynamics. By that I mean the white shark has now been protected for more than 15 years.”

The great white shark population is slowly rebounding with the protections, he said. At the same time the number of ocean users has climbed in recent years. 

“We have more people today out kayaking than we had 10, 20 years ago,” Collier said. “We have people surfing. We have more people swimming simply because the population has gone up. When you increase those numbers you also increase the probability that there’s going to be an interaction between those two species.”

Several other factors most likely have contributed, including unusual oceanographic conditions this year, he added.

The Discovery channel show Great White Serial Killer, which debuted in 2013 and reran this summer, tried to prove one shark is at fault for the killer attacks. Collier, who was interviewed in the show along with an FBI profiler, rejected that theory, although he noted wryly that many viewers apparently overlooked their opinions.

“One of the major things we pointed out is … there is no scientific evidence to support a rogue shark theory. None,” he said. 

Collier has the credentials to back up his confidence. He has been involved in shark research since 1962 and is director of the Global Shark Attack File of Princeton in New Jersey. The file contains more more than 6,000 cases of shark-human interaction dating back hundreds of years.

Collier said “more than 50 percent of the shark attacks that occur along the California-Oregon-Washington coast” happen at a place of a previous attack. “So this thing with Surf Beach is not uncommon,” Collier said, adding one location north of San Francisco has seen nine shark attacks since 1980.

If a rogue shark existed, the number of attacks would be much higher, he said.

“A shark who’s going to consume human beings that’s what they do — they consume them,” Collier said. 

None of the victims he has examined from 1962 to the present showed evidence the shark attempted to consume the human.

“We had no massive tissue loss or anything like that,” Collier said, explaining that instead the victims has “unfortunate bites” in areas that severed arteries.

Rather than feeding, Collier suspects the sharks this month were protecting their territory or investigating — “they’re curious little fellows.” 

“It’s something other than feeding,” Collier said. “Because in a feeding attack, a shark knows immediately whether or not this is food. If it’s food they’re going to continue to consume it.”

For instance in the Oct. 3 attack of kayaker Ryan Howell, the animal knocked the man 10 feet into the air. Collier’s review of vessel and tooth marks makes him certain what size of animal attacked the kayaker.

“I can tell you emphatically positively that the shark was at least 20 feet in length,” Collier said, adding he has measured dozens of white shark teeth still in the jaw and said the spacing reveals the animal’s size.

Another incident less than hour earlier likely did involve the same animal due to timing and distance of the two attacks, according to Collier.

A day earlier, a shark rammed a surfboard north of Wall Beach, injuring the government civilian employee.

“In his opinion, he did not think the shark really attempted to bite him,” Collier said, explaining the shark’s ramming caused the man to slide off the board while his leg hit the shark in the mouth.

Earlier this week, a woman reported a 6-foot shark bit her outrigger canoe while she about one mile off the coast of Santa Barbara. Harbor Patrol officials initially said the incident likely involved a 6-foot blue or gray shark.

But Collier said a colleague, Peter Howarth, director of the Santa Barbara Marine Mammal Center, talked to the woman about the incident and relayed the information.

“Peter seems pretty confident it was probably a white shark based on the description,” Collier said Wednesday night.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.</

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