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Shark Incident Causes Uproar

Jul 06, 2014 04:51PM ● Published by DigMB Staff

A juvenile great white shark.

As Steven Robles rests at home, recovering from at least one shark bite suffered Saturday when he encountered an agitated great white shark off Manhattan Beach, community members, fishermen, and authorities wrestle with how to prevent future attacks.

When bit around 9:30 a.m., the 50-year-old Lomita man was in a group of swimmers making a routine swim from the Hermosa Beach Pier to the Manhattan Beach Pier. The pier-to-pier course is popular with swimmers, who often use the route to train. Many are members of swim clubs and groups--Robles was swimming with members of the Southern California Aquatics swim team, several of whom came to his aid.

Beyond his fortunate tale of survival, the topic of great whites, their frequent sightings in waters off Manhattan Beach, fishermen, surfers, and stand up paddleboarders and how to successfully co-exist is the general idea behind "Sharing the Waves With Sharks of the South Bay," a free public education seminar sponsored by The Roundhouse Marine Studies Lab and Aquarium on Tuesday, July 15 at 7:30 p.m. at the Joslyn Community Center in MB.

Robles was bit by a juvenile great white shark that had been hooked on fishing line and in a perceived battle for its life for 40-45 minutes before the swimmers happened by.

When they swam into the area where the shark was trying to get free, the agitated fish gave Robles the shock of his life: torso and hand wounds and big shark eyes and mouth within inches of his.

Looking for answers to the accidental attack, blame has fallen
  • on the fishermen who didn't cut the shark loose before the swimmers came close; 
  • on the fishermen for hooking a great white and keeping it on the line as long as they did; 
  • on fishermen who use chum to attract the great whites that appear to flourish in Manhattan Beach's coastal waters.
Eric Martin, marine biologist and director of The Roundhouse Marine Studies Lab and Aquarium at the end of the pier, told DigMB Sunday afternoon that the fisherman who hooked the shark had used frozen sardines, not a bait whites would typically latch onto. He said some fishermen purposely fish the MB Pier to hook, struggle with and release great whites, but that Saturday's fishermen were not purposely fishing for sharks.

He also said a California Department of Fish and Wildlife staffer told him that a person can hook a shark, can fight it, can bring it to the pier and reel it in, can beach it. Only killing the shark is illegal.

Rick Flores, a pubic information officer with the Los Angeles County Fire Department, which oversees the county lifeguards who patrol the beach, said the fisherman was not charged or cited at the sceneSaturday. He confirmed that the shark was hooked on fishing line when it bit the swimmer and that the fisherman then cut the line.

Flores said it's not illegal to fish for great whites, and that catching and releasing them is also within the law. The law is broken when one is killed, he told DigMB.

Martin said fishermen don't always know what they've hooked, and that as with most things in life, some are more respectable than others. He's seen fishermen who chuck their lines directly at surfers. "You get the good ones with the bad ones," he noted.
 
"I can understand both sides [of allowing fishing form the pier or not]," Martin said. "I fish. I dive. I surf. I've been hooked."

He said 4 to 7 sharks can be seen in the waters off Manhattan Beach "in a single area" at times, all of them juveniles who are feeding off bat rays, leopard sharks, mackerels and sardines. Juveniles range in size from 4 feet to 7 feet. The one that bit Robles was reportedly about 7-feet long.

He said had the great white been an adult, the results could have been very different. The bite radius of a juvenile is about 6 inches, much smaller than an adult's.

Martin, who told DigMB about two weeks ago he was afraid an SUPer would get too close to a great white, stay on top or alongside it and agitate the shark into biting the board, has been concerned about how he sharks have been treated. He had scheduled the July 15th event weeks before Saturday's incident to educate the public about the great white.

While working at The Roundhouse, he has rushed to cut a great white shark loose from a fisherman's line and has snapped photos of the sharks with their temporary captors to get fishermen to release the sharks.

Of Saturday's shark incident, he told DigMB, "I'm just happy I was there from start to finish." He said onlookers on the pier were incredulous at what had happened, and couldn't quite fathom the reality of what they were seeing. 

As Robles was rushed to shore, Martin ran off the pier to where the victim was being treated. He said he was relieved to see that the wounds were not life-threatening.

"The fisherman came to make sure the guy was OK," he said.

At the July 15th seminar, Martin is "hoping to get the facts across" so humans and sea life can share the ocean. 

In his mind, the shark that bit Robles did so out of a response to having a hook in its mouth (white sharks will constantly open and close their mouths to try to remove the hook) or because it was provoked and agitated.

He said the fisherman and the great white were at a stalemate and that reeling in a white is like "hooking a fishing line to a small car to try to reel that in." He said the sharks are extremely powerful.

As with other sharks enthusiasts and lovers of marine life, he thrills when he sees a great white, whales and dolphins. He was recently in the ocean when a great white flashed past chasing fish. "It was just kicking butt," he said.

Through Tuesday, Manhattan Beach city officials have closed the pier to fishing, said Flores.

On The Roundhouse Facebook page, a man who was one of the fishermen involved, according to his posts, defends fishermen and gives his side of the situation.

For Martin, Sunday was a good day: Swimmers from Saturday were in the water once again swimming pier to pier.

Shark Bite Survivor Steve Robles

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