Just in time for the upcoming Independence Day weekend — and nearly 35 years to the day after the original release of Jaws — the South Coast has had a slew of shark shenanigans at area beaches. Last Saturday, June 26, Santa Barbara Harbor Patrol picked up a badly injured sea lion just a short distance offshore of East Beach. Taking cover on the deck of an anchored boat, the sea lion — which was suffering from two distinct bites and a nearly severed hind flipper — was the victim of a juvenile great white shark, according to Peter Howorth, founder of the Santa Barbara Marine Mammal Center. Howorth — who picked up the still-alive sea lion from Harbor Patrol and, after attempts at treating it failed, put it to sleep — explained that, based on the size and style of the bite marks, “There is absolutely no doubt it was a juvenile great white.”
One day after the sea lion incident, a baby great white shark washed up dead along Rincon Point. Though the shark carcass was gone by the time he arrived on the scene, Howorth — who also serves on the international Shark Research Committee — was confident this week that, based on eyewitness accounts of the baby shark’s size, it was not the same animal responsible for the East Beach biting. In a nod to the spookiness of a shark feeding on a sea lion so close to such a popular beach, the Santa Barbara City Junior Lifeguard program opted to stay out of the water and run its summer classes on the sand for Monday and Tuesday this week.
On a related note, Channel Islands National Park authorities issued an official warning this week, informing the public that they are entering the water “at their own risk” should they decide to go swimming off the coast of Santa Barbara Island. The statement comes after three separate, reported incidents of great white sharks feeding on sea lions near the island in recent months, including one recently in the island’s Landing Cove.