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Shark that killed Morro Bay boogie boarder was 16-foot great white, researchers say

shark attack mb.jpg
Posted at 3:44 PM, Mar 31, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-01 02:19:37-04

The shark involved in the deadly attack in Morro Bay on Christmas Eve is confirmed by marine biologists to be a 16-foot great white shark.

It took the life of 42-year-old Tomas Butterfield of Sacramento who was boogie boarding in an area known as The Pit.

Another surfer pulled Butterfield and his board to the beach, but she told KSBY News it was clear he had already passed away from his injuries.

It was the first deadly shark attack in San Luis Obispo County in 18 years.

“Based on the bite pattern, we estimate that shark to be about 16-feet long,” said Dr. Chris Lowe, CSU Long Beach Marine Biology Professor and Shark Lab Director.

To put that into perspective, that’s the size of a small boat.

Dr. Lowe says Butterfield was bitten at least twice by the adult shark, confirmed by DNA to be a great white.

Dr. Lowe studies sharks in areas like Diablo Canyon. It’s known as a great white hot spot with its warm water and plenty of food.

“At Diablo Canyon, we've seen at least eight in an area maybe half the size of a football field,” he explained.

Over the past few years, he’s tagged roughly two dozen of them.

San Simeon and Vandenberg are also popular areas for the world’s largest known predatory fish.

“We have seen increased numbers of adult white sharks in that lower part of Central California kind of from Morro Bay down to Point Conception so we believe that this very likely is a new hunting area,” he said.

Dr. Lowe says you can expect great whites in Central Coast waters from August through February, then they move to an area between Baja and Hawaii.

“At this point, we can't even assume that the shark that was involved in that is still in California. It's fairly likely that that shark has migrated out to the middle of the Pacific which is what most adults do this time of year,” he said.

Statistics put the risk of a shark attack at about one in 300 million.

One surfer we talked with says he tries not to sit on his board by himself.

“I try to just think that there's a shark around and then I’m just vigilant,” said Kai Binney of San Luis Obispo.

Dr. Lowe adds that people should be even more careful when entering the waters near elephant seal rookeries. The large marine mammals are a primary source of food for the great white.

“It's their home and we're guests in their home so we should always be aware of the fact that they're there,” he said.

Dr. Lowe says he doesn’t have any evidence of the same shark biting more than one human but shark bites, in general, are extremely rare.