A large great white shark triggered a beach closure in Santa Barbara on Thursday after it sunk its teeth into a kayaker’s vessel.
“The only thing I saw was its face in my face, clamping down and then shoving me sideways,” said Bret Z. Jackson, 40, of Los Angeles. His expletive-laced, mile-a-minute retelling of the encounter suggested his adrenaline was still pumping a couple of hours later.
“Yeah, it was … big, it was right in my face. It was a great white – gray on top, white on bottom, black eyes.”
Jackson said he had been paddling in his kayak for about 45 minutes when the shark made its move. It approached from beneath, then came up from the side, its teeth only inches away from digging into Jackson’s torso.
Jackson was helpless as the shark pushed his kayak sideways then flipped him over, plunging him into the water.
“I was in for a couple of seconds, I don’t know, I scrambled, completely flipped over. I got out somehow and was on the bottom side of my kayak, which was out of the water,” Jackson said. “The kayak is 9 feet long and I’m 6-3 and I have my arms tucked in.”
But the shark’s teeth had punctured the kayak’s hull. Jackson was marooned on a sinking plastic island and had no idea where the shark had gone.
He said all he could think was, “How do I stay out of the water?”
So he said he pulled out a knife with a 5-inch blade that he’d brought just in case something as crazy as this happened.
“I was just waiting for it to come,” he said, adding that he realized his knife was probably useless.
One minute passed, then two. The shark didn’t reappear and Jackson was able to flag down a sailboat about 200 feet away. The sailboat’s owner jumped into his dinghy and motored over, Jackson said. Then the two towed the kayak back to the sailboat, where Jackson and his vessel were picked up by the Harbor Patrol.
By the time they made it to shore, hundreds had gathered to watch.
Chris Lowe, a biology professor and director of the Shark Lab at Cal State Long Beach, said the shark was probably full grown, based on the 16-inch-wide diameter of the bite mark, and was probably taking an “investigatory” chomp to see if the kayak was prey.
“That behavior is the most common behavior in these interactions,” Lowe said. The shark “grabs the board or kayak, shakes it once or twice,” then leaves.
“That’s how they decide whether it’s something worth eating.”
The waters off Santa Barbara are relatively close to the Channel Islands, “the main pantry” for great whites due to the abundance of sea lions and other prey, Lowe said.
He suggested that if you’re going to go in the water, stay in a group because a shark is less likely to attack.
By Thursday afternoon, authorities closed the beach and put up notices about the shark sighting. People can swim at their own risk, Harbor Patrol officials said.
As for Jackson, it may be a while before he gets back into the water.
“I’m going to think about it,” he said.