Should I Get a Bigger Boat? Shark Attacks on Boats, People, Dogs and Seals

Events like this make me feel lucky to live in California.

This August 8 lecture at the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum with shark legend Ralph S. Collier  and Peter Howorth promises to be fascinating!

Should I Get a Bigger Boat?

Shark Attacks on Boats, People, Dogs, and Seals

by Ralph S. Collier  (President, Shark Research Committee)

and Peter Howorth (Director, Santa Barbara Marine Mammal Center)

 Where: Santa Barbara Maritime Museum, 113 Harbor Way, Santa Barbara, California

When: Friday, August 8, 2014 • 7:00pm

Cost: $15 (SBMM and Shark Research Committee members), $20 (non-members)

To Register: Go to or call (805) 962-8404 x115

What should you do if a shark takes a fancy to your boat?  Yes, this really does happen––boats have been attacked by sharks.  Find out why this happens and much more as Ralph S. Collier, the west coast’s leading authority on shark attacks, explores various theories on why sharks attack everything from surfboards to boats, and from crab trap floats to people.  Learn what makes a shark tick and why it is such a supremely well-adapted predator.  Discover from Peter Howorth how attacks on marine mammals can serve as canaries in the coal mines, warning people of shark hazards, and what is being done about this.

If you are in the Santa Barbara area on August 8, 2014 please stop by. Directions to the Museum are available on the SBMM web site when you order tickets. After you order tickets please notify the SRC so we can place you on our Members list for this event. For confirmation of SRC Membership, and to obtain the $5.00 discount per ticket, please print out and bring this email. Seating is limited so order your tickets today. Thank you and we look forward to seeing you August 8th at the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum.


Day 277 3/30/14: The Coolest Shark Site…EVER…..

great-white-shark-wallpapers_35944_852x480The ocean is oddly silent and still, then a white shark bursts out of the water, nearly sending a startled kayaker into the water. A surfer watches a black dorsal fin slice the surface and disappear. Headless seals wash up on the beach. These are just some of the thrilling dispatches from Pacific Coast Shark News, my favorite feature of Ralph Collier’s Shark Research Committee website. I have learned a tremendous amount about shark behavior and intelligence just from reading Pacific Coast Shark News. But keeping detailed and accurate records of shark activity along the Pacific Coast is only a small part of SRC’s very important work. They are currently working on a pioneering non-invasive DNA project that if funded could revolutionize shark conservation. The identification and migration patterns of specific shark populations through DNA, could help researchers predict the chances of future attacks offering an alternative to the barbaric retaliatory slaughter of sharks, like the “cull” happening in Australia right now.

For a $20 donation, you will receive the fascinating SRC Quarterly e-mail newsletter and for $70, you will receive Ralph Collier’s utterly riveting, lavishly illustrated book Shark Attacks of Twentieth Century.

Please consider making a donation of any amount, even $10–to help SRC continue its essential conservation and education efforts.

Day 102 10/5/13: The Shark Ate My Homework

Reviewing the student responses to Ralph Collier’s lecture, I’m pleased that the majority wanted to hear more about shark conservation and that Ralph’s amazing stories about great white behavior made many of them realize that “fish can be smart.”

Ah students! They invent such striking turns of phrase. Ralph showed a video of a shark releasing a cloud of waste over a diving cage, and someone referred to this phenomenon as the “shark farting.” This was no fart. The shark rained shit and piss, but I have never read the words “shark” and “fart” in close succession and I must say there’s a playful musicality to the term.

I figured I get a lot of “pray” instead of “prey” (or even “preys”),  for this assignment, but this sentence exceeds my expectations: “Mr. Callier explained how sharks can be very specific with where they hunt their praise.”

When a white shark sinks his teeth into the edge of a kayak, is he simply saying, “Look at me, for Chrissakes. Love me as I am–with my lurid gums and sandpaper skin and efficient torpedo design? How many more femoral arteries do I have to sever to get a little attention?”

Sigh. Sharks Have Needs

Day 92: 9/25/13: Afternoon with a Shark Legend

I am still ecstatic from Ralph Collier’s lecture this afternoon at Glendale College this afternoon. Great turn out–students, teachers from all disciplines, and people from outside school–including one dazzled shark nerd in a Jaws t-shirt who sat in the front row, and my dear friend Lisa and her fellow shark fanatic pal, Jack.

Ralph covered some fascinating stuff about shark behavior including “spy hopping” in which white sharks (and apparently oceanic white tips) stick their heads out of the water to check out what’s happening on land and sometimes startle random seals off the edges of rookeries. They also spy hop to calculate which group of seals in the haul-out area might be easiest to sweep into the water via a giant breach. Essentially, I learned that white sharks ain’t dummies. Not by a long shot. They have memories. They make calculated decisions. Ralph doesn’t believe in calling shark encounters “accidents”–he gives the animals volition—whether the intent is to investigate or to launch a predatory strike.

I learned two more disturbing consequences of shark finning:

1. When the discarded bodies of finned sharks are thrown overboard, they sink to the bottom where ammonia leaking from their ravaged bodies destroys coral communities.

2. Increasing numbers of people in Asia who consume shark fin soup are developing neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and A.L.S.  Researchers have proposed that the high concentrations of mercury in shark fin and flesh bind with other neurotoxins and create a lethal toxic compound. Could this new health concern become a powerful force in stopping finning?

Continue reading

Day 63: 8/27/13: “A Fin in a Waste of Waters”

Today’s title is  a recurring line  from Virginia Woolf’s novel “The Waves.”

That line mesmerized me when I wrote a paper on “The Waves”  for my Woolf seminar in graduate school.  I love the desolation of it–” a waste of waters,” and though I’ve not returned to that book in many years, it persists in my consciousness, a potent symbol, a perfect fragment.

However, High modernism is not the only source for memorable reminders of the power of the dorsal fin.

On September 25th, Ralph Collier, founder of  Shark Research Committee and author of the fascinating and disturbing book “Shark Attacks of the Twentieth Century”  will be my guest lecturer at Glendale College. I am a proud member of the Shark Research Committee and frequent reader of Pacific Coast Shark News,   Collier’s archives of detailed eyewitness descriptions of shark encounters (sightings, breachings,  bumped surfboards,  headless seals washed up on the beach or more rarely, full-fledged attacks) from California to Washington.

I could spend days scrolling through these accounts–which are both scientific and poetic, eerie and beautiful. A man diving near Refugio in Santa Barbara County  takes sanctuary in the kelp canopy after a 12-foot great white steals a freshly killed lingcod from his hand.  Two miles west of Refugio, a shark, “possibly a great white,” lifts a kayaker out of the water.  On a cloudless day in Big Sur, a two-foot high dorsal fin surfaces then disappears.

Phrases like “glassy calm” and “crescent-shaped bite” dazzle and terrify. Detailed, crime report-style identifications:  “blunt nose, 12-14 feet in length, grayish black” alternate with the ephemeral, and elusive:   “the shadow of the body was about 15-feet in length.”

These encounters, these observations are usually over in seconds.

The shark moves lazily or with the precision and speed of a torpedo, over the reef, out to sea. Or simply sinks and disappears.

Français : Aileron de requin. English : Shark ...

Français : Aileron de requin. English : Shark dorsal fin. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)