Shark kills 31-year-old man near Morro Bay; all swimmers ordered to leave water

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MORRO BAY, CA -- WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 3, 2016: A surfer and Morro Rock are reflected in the water at low tide as the sun goes down with ash visible from a forest fire in Morro Bay. Steve Lopez takes a California coastal tour marking the 40th anniversary of the Coastal Act in California, CA, on Aug. 3, 2016. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
A 31-year-old man was killed by a shark Friday morning near Morro Rock, shown in 2016. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

A 31-year-old man was pronounced dead Friday morning due to a shark attack off the coast of Morro Bay in what is believed to be San Luis Obispo County’s first such fatality in 18 years.

County officials are in the process of contacting family members before releasing the man’s identity, said Eric Endersby, Morro Bay harbor patrol director.

The man appeared to be a bodyboarder, Endersby said. The man was initially aided by a nearby female surfer, who paddled over to help.

Endersby said she does not appear to be related, and it's unknown whether she saw the attack.

The man was dragged to the beach by the surfer. Fire and police reached the scene at 10:48 a.m., Endersby said, and paramedics declared the bodyboarder dead.

The county coroner is investigating. Endersby said a state Fish and Wildlife biologist was on hand to determine the type and size of the shark.

Surfers and swimmers have been ordered out of the waters of State Parks Beach near Morro Strand, where the attack took place, and nearby Morro Bay beaches for the next 24 hours. The beaches remain open to walkers and others.

Endersby estimates that about 25 to 30 people were in the vicinity when the man was dragged out of the water, and it’s not clear whether anyone witnessed the attack.

By the time harbor patrol cleared out the waters at 11 a.m., there were only three people swimming.

“Word spread like wildfire, and people quickly got out of the water,” Endersby said.

Endersby believed that weather conditions may have contributed to smaller crowds than usual on a holiday weekend. Rain throughout Thursday led to runoff near the beach, and winds kicked up the surf higher than normal, he said.

“Mother Nature was on our side because we could have had more people out for sure,” he said.

Endersby, a 28-year harbor patrol employee, recalled a few recent area shark attacks in the last 10 years, but not a death.

Cal Poly San Luis Obispo student Nick Wapner was bitten by a great white shark on Jan. 9, 2019, off Montaña de Oro State Park. Another attack also took place at the same beach in 2015 when a man in his 50s was believed to have been attacked by an 8- to 10-foot juvenile.

Endersby believes the last shark attack death occurred in August 2003 when a 50-year-old woman was killed at Avila Beach.

In that instance, the woman was believed to have been swimming with seals at the time.

Endersby said the appearance of the marine mammal, a food source for a variety of sharks, should serve as a warning.

“If you see a lot of bird or seal activity in the water, that’s a sign that people should be looking to get out of the water,” he said. “Human attacks are largely a case of mistaken identity.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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