To be clear: It’s highly unlikely you’ll ever be attacked by a shark.
Millions of people swim and surf each year off the California coast. On average, three are attacked annually by sharks, according to data from the University of Florida covering the past decade. By comparison, California injuries or deaths resulting from drownings occur at a rate 200 times higher than shark attacks.
That said, some people do get extraordinarily unlucky. A shark attacked 35-year-old Leeanne Ericson while she swam at San Onofre Beach on Wednesday. The shark, likely a great white, bit Ericson in the thigh and left her “fighting for her life,” her mother said.
Sharks don’t attack uniformly along California’s coastline. Some counties, such as Ventura and Mendocino, have seen fewer than three shark attacks in the past 70 years.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Sacramento Bee
Other counties are dicier. California shark attacks are most frequent in San Diego County, where Ericson was swimming, with 18 attacks taking place there since 1950. Sharks are common in the waters off San Diego, but they rarely interact with swimmers.
“The leopard shark is the most near to shore,” Andy Nosal, a marine biologist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, told Voice of San Diego in 2011. “... They’re completely harmless if they’re not provoked. They’re fairly skittish, and people go snorkeling with them all the time in La Jolla.”
Close behind San Diego is Humboldt County, with 16 shark attacks since 1960. Scott Quackenbush, former director of the marine lab for Humboldt State University, told the Eureka Times-Standard in 2008 that great white sharks often come near Humboldt County shores because of the steep underwater coastline. The sharks occasionally mistake surfers for seals.
“Seal pup season is really like ringing the dinner bell for these great whites,” Quackenbush said.
This map shows where in California shark attacks happened most often since 1950, according to the University of Florida’s International Shark Attack File.
Data Tracker is a regular feature that breaks down the numbers behind today’s news. Explore more trends at sacbee.com/datatracker.