A helicopter spotted a white shark, is it megalodon?
A white shark about 15 feet long was photographed from a helicopter on Wednesday about a quarter mile off Seacliff State Beach, shark researchers said.
Sean Van Sommeran, executive director of the Santa Cruz-based Pelagic Shark Research Foundation, said it was probably an adult white shark which are often spotted in waters off Santa Cruz County in the fall.
“We’ve had a lot of sharks down there,” Van Sommeran said of the beaches south of Capitola. “They’re not menacing. It’s kind of a sharky area.”
Pilot Paul Henrichsen of Watsonville-based Specialized Helicopters was in a helicopter with Neal Martin of Sky High Photography when Henrichsen spotted the shark about noon. It was just below the water’s surface about a quarter mile off Seacliff State Beach north of the cement ship.
Martin was on his way to Pleasure Point to shoot aerial photos of a home for a real estate agent. Henrichsen and Martin saw the shark’s wake.
“It looked like a jet trail. It was pretty darn epic, actually,” Henrichsen said.
Martin added, “We both initially wondered, gee, is this a whale? We were both quite surprised how long it was.”
The animal’s triangular fins tipped them off that it was a shark, he said. They circled roughly 800 feet above it for about 5 minutes as Martin shot photos as the shark dived out of view.
Van Sommeran, who looked at photos of the shark Wednesday night, said it was likely an adult white shark. Van
Sommeran has studied sharks since the early 1990s.
He said from October to January white sharks typically come to places like the seal rookery at AÃ±o Nuevo Island to “fuel up” on prey and prepare for long trips toward Hawaii.
“They’re out there. The good news is they don’t often bite people,” Van Sommeran said.
The last unprovoked shark attack on a human in the area was at Marina State Beach in Monterey County in August 2007. Todd Endris, a 24-year-old surfer, injured his back and shoulder but survived.
Van Sommeran said there have been fewer shark sightings off county waters this summer and fall compared with the same period in 2010. The waters off Rio Del Mar and the vicinity are often calm and make it easier for humans to see them near the surface, Van Sommeran said.
Also on Wednesday afternoon about half mile off Capitola, sea bass fisherman Larry Roland reported a shark encounter.
Roland was drifting a bright orange, parachute-like sea anchor to help stabilize the boat. The boat lurched, the sea anchor was torn, and Roland saw the shark’s tail as it left.
Van Sommeran said it’s possible that the same shark spotted from the helicopter.
Chip Bockman, State Parks lifeguard supervisor, said he was not aware of other recent shark sightings but said they are common in the early fall.
Also on Oct. 21, a surfer at South Beach State Park in Oregon was launched in the air by a shark. The man broke his board but made it to shore unharmed, according to news reports.
Sommeran said swimmers, surfers and others should be aware of other animals in and around the water like birds, seals and dolphins.
Dolphins can be prey for sharks and does not necessarily mean the area is safe, as many believe, Van Sommeran said. Birds diving into the water can be another warning.
“If you do see bird activity, you might think twice about swimming through it,” Van Sommeran said.