By CHRIS NICHOLS [email protected] | Posted: Friday, September 2, 2011 6:00 pm
Carlsbad resident Gary Elliot said he had no idea a great white shark was swimming under the pod of surfers he photographed this week at Swami’s beach in Encinitas.
He, like many along the Southern California coast, just wanted to document the powerful waves crashing against the shore —- a phenomenon that has led to a high-surf advisory through Sunday night.
To Elliot’s considerable surprise Wednesday night, he found a photo of what appears to be a big shark lurking inside his digital camera.
In the photo, the distinctive crescent-shaped tail of a great white shark is visible darting through a wave, unbeknownst to a group of nearby surfers.
The shark appears to be up to 12 feet long and 1,000 pounds —- at least according to one noted shark expert who has studied the image.
And while skeptics say the shot looks a bit fishy, Elliot, a 56-year-old voice artist and avid body surfer, said his photo is as true as the sea is deep.
“For me, the ocean has always been a place of wonder and fascination. … I was blown away (by the image),” Elliot said by phone on Friday, adding that he sent the photo to a local television station this week to see if it could help confirm its authenticity, not to create an international sensation.
Elliot, who added that he works as a freelance media content producer, said he has fielded 15 media calls about his “lucky” photo, and that the image has landed as far away as the front page of a British newspaper.
In San Diego County, shark sightings have caused two closures at Mission Beach and one at La Jolla’s Children’s Pool within the last several days.
There were no reports of sharks at Swami’s, a popular surfing spot, the day Elliot took his photo; an Encinitas lifeguard who viewed the image told other media outlets that the photo looked like a person diving into a wave, not a shark.
That skepticism is all wet, says Ralph Collier, who heads the nonprofit Shark Research Center near Los Angeles.
Collier, who said he helped found the nonprofit in 1963, assessed the photo this week and concluded that it is “most definitely” a great white shark.
He said the image clearly shows a crescent-shaped tail, distinctive of great whites. He estimated that the shark was between 10 and 12 feet long and may have weighed 1,000 pounds, just short of a mature adult.
“The shark, at that size, is the only one that would be common to our coast, with that type of tail,” the researcher added.
Collier said he believes that the shark is turning to the right, away from the group of surfers, which he said explains why its full body is not visible.
Young sharks are a somewhat common sight along Southern California’s coastline from spring through summer as they feed on grunion spawn, Collier said.
He added that the creatures do not seek out humans for attack, and that the one at Swami’s was probably scared off once it sensed the group of surfers nearby.
Surfers, photographers and curious onlookers packed North County’s coastline on Thursday, although not necessarily to look for sharks.
Many appeared mesmerized by the relentless armada of waves building up and then smashing down along the shore.
The coastline’s waves ranged from 12 to 16 feet on Thursday.
They dropped to a still-dangerous 5 to 9 feet Friday, according to the National Weather Service.
A winter storm off New Zealand is credited with generating the awe-inspiring swell along the Southern California coast.
Some said they hadn’t even heard about any shark sightings.
“There wasn’t really any shark talk out there today,” said a dripping Gavin Bialecki, 29, after hiking up from Swami’s Beach following a morning surf. “The shark thing is really second to the waves.”
Viraja Prema, huddling with her 5-year-old son, Zaiden, and 2-year-old son, Zyler, near the water at Fletcher Cove in Solana Beach, said she knew nothing of the shark sightings.
After learning about them from a reporter, she said she’d probably keep her boys “in the shallows with the Boogie Boarding practice.”
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