A Great White Shark

While rare, great white shark attacks do happen on the Oregon Coast (27 times since 1974). Oregon Coast Aquarium’s director of animal care, Jim Burke, gives us the lowdown on these one-ton forces of nature.

Why are great whites in Oregon? Great whites give birth in warmer waters like Southern California and Mexico. They come up here to feed on seals and sea lions, looking for what keeps them alive. If they are feeding, they are going to be within the surf zone, a few hundred yards off the beach.

What are my odds of being bitten? Extremely small. They’re an instinctual and somewhat primitive animal. It’s usually a case of misidentification with their usual prey. I’ve only ever seen two great whites while surfing in the past 25 years.

How can I avoid them?
In the fall, when salmon are running and there’s a concentration of seals getting fat for the winter, stay away from river mouths. Also avoid early morning or evening: low light can mean more misidentification ... and it’s when they feed.

What can I do if I’m attacked? Hit them in the nose, where they have very sensitive sensory organs called “the ampullae of Lorenzini,” or stick your fingers in the eyes. Whatever you do, [if you are attacked] make sure it’s the fight response, not the flight response. But if you [simply] see one in the water, just get out.

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