Thursday, June 8, 2023

Encounter with a Great White Shark – “Co-Existence is the Key”

Photo Credit: Alisa Kerr (March 2021 at Coronado Shores “Shipwreck Break”)

I feel like such a fool. Paddled out this morning at 10 a.m., at the Shipwreck. Sitting outside in the lineup I glanced down. Swimming under me was a Great White Shark about the length of my surfboard (which is 10’2″).

Foolish? Because I panicked. I pulled up my legs and felt my heart in my throat.

I paddled over to two surfers north of me and told them what I saw. They said that, if not for the look on my face of abject fear, they wouldn’t have believed me. They rode the next wave in.

Illustration of Joe Ditler created by Terry Naughton.

I warned another surfer to the south, then I rode in on my belly and called it a day. When you’re afraid, your body puts out signals. Sharks sense that. I didn’t want to arouse his curiosity so I made my exit, stage right.

Thinking back on it, that shark was sooooooo beautiful. Gray and silver, shimmering in the morning glass, gently moving it’s hips to generate just enough speed to meander along the bottom in search of stingrays and fish. He didn’t seem bothered by me in the least.

In 1975 I was working as a SCUBA instructor. On an abalone dive off Point Loma, with Jim Robeson and Ron Clark. I decided to go deep, and we got separated. Suddenly something massive went over me, blocking the sun and casting an enormous shadow over me.

I panicked! I began to suck my tanks dry. It was just a big Manta Ray, but I had seen “Jaws” the week before, and I was ruined forever with those images and that soundtrack. I don’t think I ever dove again. I picked up more waiter shifts at the Brigantine restaurant, and gave up my work as a dive instructor.

Today, as I shared what I saw with a lifeguard, another surfer got out of the water and said he had just seen a five-foot Great White. In the parking lot, another surfer said he saw a four footer several hundred yards north of us.

The lifeguard checked his phone, and said the shark buoy tracked Great White “Number 53” in the area I was surfing, at 10 a.m. this morning — the same time and space that I spotted him.

He said that two years ago, when they tagged him, he was 7-8 feet in length, and very well could be 10-feet by now.

Funny how surfers, for the most part, usually don’t let news of Great Whites at our surf spot get to us. But, I don’t see how you cannot, not when you’ve actually had visual contact like I did this morning.

In hindsight, what a gorgeous creature that was. Sooooo majestic, sooooo aerodynamicly built. The perfect killing machine, should he so choose.

Wow! I will surf this break again. And next time I’ll say “hello” to Great White Shark Number 53,” now that we’ve been properly introduced. Co-existence is the key. I hope someone tells him that theory.


New Shark Buoys Installed off Coronado Coast

Shark Sightings at the Coronado Shores (Photos)

Live Buoy Monitoring of Tagged Sharks


Joe Ditler
Joe Ditler
Joe Ditler is a professional writer, publicist and Coronado historian. Formerly a writer with the Los Angeles Times, he has been published in magazines and newspapers throughout North America and Europe. He also owns Part-Time PR (a subsidiary of Schooner or Later Promotions), specializing in helping Coronado businesses reach larger audiences with well-placed public relations throughout the greater San Diego County. He writes obituaries and living-obituaries under the cover "Coronado Storyteller." To find out more, write or call [email protected], or (619) 742-1034.