Surfer attacked by shark off San Mateo County coast; beaches closed

A man was hospitalized Saturday morning after being bitten by a Shark.

He was the sole person injured, with a severe wound to his leg.

It happened just after 9 a.m. Saturday at Gray Whale Cove State Beach, south of Pacifica.

First responders say a shark, likely a white shark six to eight feet long, bit a surfer once, leaving ten teeth marks.

"The patient suffered severe injuries, had approximately 10 bites to the back of his leg and he is a 39-year-old male," said Battalion Chief Brian Ham with Cal Fire and San Mateo County Fire.

Authorities say bystanders helped bring the man to shore and first responders applied a tourniquet to his leg.

Low clouds made aerial transport too dangerous, so the man was taken to a hospital by ambulance.

Late morning beachgoers watched as state parks officials put up signs warning of the danger, prohibiting visitors from entering the water.

Ruben Salazar, who says he’s been coming here for years, was stunned by what happened.

"It is very surprising because we’ve been coming here since we were kids and we’ve never ever heard of encountered anything like that," said Ruben Salazar, visiting from Merced County.

Authorities say the surfer had on a wetsuit and experts say the appearance from a shark’s vantage point below may have been the motivation for what they call a shark investigation.

"If we look like their favorite prey, a sea lion, or elephant seal, then they’re going to investigate. They don’t have hands, they explore with their teeth sometimes," said Marine Biologist David McGuire, the Executive Director of the non-profit Shark Stewards.

The Bay Area coastline is rich in diversity, home to about 13 species of sharks.

Experts say the white shark population has been growing since much of the area has been under protection since the early ’90s, a time when the species was declining and near local extinction.

Though experts say sharks are often nearby, oftentimes in close proximity unbeknownst to humans, a bite is an extraordinary event.

"I’ve worked for the Sheriff’s office for 18 years, including coast side patrol for a number of years.  And this is the first one that I can remember.  There may have been others, but they are exceedingly rare in San Mateo County," said Lieutenant Eamonn Allen with the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office.

"The relative risk is 1-in-17 million to encountering a shark in California waters, and that was from a Stanford study, so extremely low," said McGuire.

McGuire adds, the worldwide survivability rate of a shark attack is 90%.

Out of an abundance of caution, the water at Gray Whale Cove State Beach and Montara State Beach to the south will be off-limits until further notice.