Seeing how I have been homebound during this unprecedented Worldwide Lockdown (I am sure you can relate), I had the time to do some shark research. I have always wondered how often sharks are seen off the coast of San Diego. Through the years, I have heard rumors, but seeing that I had a bunch of time on my hands, I set out to find all I could about San Diego shark sightings and encounters that happened off the coastline.
Sharks have fascinated me since I was a little girl, and my first scientific report was on the hammerhead shark in fourth grade.
Something so powerful and alluring about sharks tugging deep at your primal soul: the coldness of the eyes and the methodic tail movements that propel them through the water always captures my attention and imagination. I mean, the fact that sharks have been around for over 400 million years blows me away!
But I digress.
My mind was running wild while reading the fascinating shark encounter reports. It was a welcome reprieve to escape the world’s chaos.
So, why not document the various shark sightings/ encounters in San Diego County, beach by beach? It would make for a great addition to my website, as well as for my curiosity.
Sad News From Santa Cruz, California
While writing this article, something truly tragic happened off the coast of Northern California at 1:30 pm on May 11.
On the northern end of Monterey Bay, Ben Kelly, 26 years old, was attacked and killed by a shark while surfing. The tragedy occurred 100 yards (91 meters) from the shore of Sand Dollar Beach at Manresa State Beach, Santa Cruz.
Kelly was surfing with a friend, who said they could swim back to shore but could not stop the bleeding.
Experts also noted that this area is notorious for juvenile great white shark sightings and is called “Shark Park.”
But a juvenile did not attack Ben, as experts reported the shark to have been larger than 10 feet.
Table of Contents
What Types of Sharks Are Found off the Coast of San Diego County?
Before I get into all the critical shark sighting data I have uncovered, I thought I would first make a list of possible sharks seen in and around San Diego waters.
To go one step further, I have separated them into Coastal and Pelagic groups. Down below are the definitions given to simplify the difference between the two.
What is the Difference Between Coastal and Pelagic Sharks?
- Pelagic- Any species inhabiting the upper portion of the open sea and not found anywhere near the bottom or close to shore; it lives outside the continental shelf.
- Coastal- Remains within the sunlit waters down to 200 meters (655 feet) and from the shoreline down to the edge of the continental shelf.
- Coastal Pelagic- a fish within the water column above 1000 meters (3280 feet)- typically above the continental shelf.
Benthic Sharks Compared to Pelagic Sharks
Another way of looking at it is that any species that lives on the ocean bottom is considered benthic. Benthic is a term used to describe the ecological region of the lowest level at the bottom of any body of water.
While on the other hand, a pelagic shark lives within the water column in the open ocean and will have nothing to do with the bottom of any waters above the continental shelf zone.
-If the shark species has a history of attacking humans, I have noted it by adding the symbol #.
Shark Research Committee Has So Much Information!
As you can see, there are quite a few sharks off the coast of San Diego. But the real question is, how frequently are sharks encountered?
While researching, I came across the Shark Research Committee website and was blown away by the valuable information I could utilize from this unique platform.
Here is a little history about this fabulous organization-
“The Shark Research Committee was founded in 1963 with the primary reason for assisting Leonard P Schultz of the Smithsonian Institute and the Office of Naval Research in documenting all shark attacks from the Pacific Coast of North America.”
The Shark Research Committee determined that the overwhelming majority (87%) of shark attacks are done by the great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias.)
Where Do the Sharks Hangout in San Diego?
The primary intent of this article is to showcase each beach where shark sightings/encounters occur and to give the reader an idea of the setting in which they appear.
Below, I have compiled a list of all 2003 to 2009 San Diego shark sightings (primarily great white sharks) reported off the coast of San Diego County.
Why only until 2009?
Once I started this endeavor, I had no idea how many shark sightings occur (there are so many!). So, later, I plan on adding more years and ultimately have a complete list sometime in the future.
Seven years of shark sighting data is a start. In the meantime, I have also included all documented San Diego County shark attacks.
What Constitutes a Shark Attack?
Before beginning, it is essential to note that any unprovoked encounter with a shark where they touch or brushes against you is considered an attack. This also includes any unprovoked attack on any ocean equipment used in any ocean activity by a human being.
There have only been two fatal shark attacks off the coast of San Diego County in the past 65 years. When you think of it this way, the odds of ever being attacked by a shark are very, very, very low.
James Murphy, a professional oddsmaker for SportsInsider.com and author of “2019 Shark Attack Betting Odds, ” also adds to the matter.
Through countless hours of research, he found the odds of being attacked by a shark; that is, if you live within 100 miles of the coast, it is 1 in 3.6 million. During those that live more than 100 miles away, the odds increase to 1 in 7 million.
To put it into perspective, you have a higher chance of being killed by an asteroid (1 in 1.9 million) or drowning in your bathtub (1 in 840,000).
Below I have provided you with a summary of each lethal shark attack.
San Diego County Shark Attacks
- July 14, 1959- Robert L Pamperin was free diving for abalone at La Jolla Cove and was believed to be swallowed whole by a 20-foot great white shark. Those who witnessed the shark said that it looked like a killer whale. His body was never recovered, but his flipper washed ashore several days later.
- April 25, 2008- Dr. David Martin was swimming near Fletcher Cove in Solana Beach and was rammed from below and pulled underwater. The attack was so brutal that I have a hard time even writing about it (See more down below)
OK, let’s get started in North County San Diego at San Onofre State Beach. I will list the time of day and other pertinent information available to keep things manageable.
Shark Sightings at San Onofre State Beach
San Onofre State Beach borders Orange County to the North and Camp Pendleton to the South. I will start at Trestles and finish over at Bluff’s Beach, located underneath the San Onofre Bluff Campground.
From what I see, San Onofre, by far, has the most significant number of great white shark sightings in all of San Diego County. Look at each encounter and see if you can spot a trend.
# = Shark Attack
Shark Encounters at Trestles
Trestles Beach is known worldwide; for having some of the best surf breaks for immediate to advanced wave riders. It is quite a trek to get here, but so worth the effort. I suggest taking Trestles Beach Trail, as the parking options are better. Click on the above link for more information.
Trestles consist of 4 different surf breaks- Cottons, located in Orange County, followed by Uppers, Lowers, and Middles. Just south of Middles is Church surf break, right in front of the San Onofre Beach- Camp Pendleton.
Uppers Shark Encounters
July 2, 2005 #
- 2:30 pm-Daniel Sindell, his father John, and friend Biran Pompa were surfing and bodyboarding 75 yards from shore. Daniel noted that water visibility was zero due to red tide, and upon entering the water, John cut his foot on the rocks and barnacles on the bottom. They decided to surf right off of San Mateo Point. All three were in a triangular formation four feet away from each other, waiting for a wave. All were hanging off their boards by their arms, with their legs dangling below. Daniel then felt something muscular brush against his calf, and the water started swirling around them. They all immediately headed back to shore. Once on the beach, John inspected his son’s leg and was relieved to see no cuts on the calf but only a mild abrasion.
September 29, 2006
- 5 pm- Ken McKnight was out surfing in about 25 feet of water when something came up from underneath and made a u-turn 6 inches away from him. He estimated that it was 4 to 5 feet.
Sharks Seen At Lowers
August 15, 2004
- At 9:30 am, Greg Hulsizer was fishing off his surfboard and noticed a dorsal fin traveling south 100 yards from the beach.
May 19, 2020
- Mike Estrada was sitting on his surfboard waiting for a wave when he saw a dark gray triangular dorsal fin slowly passing by him and others in the surf line. He noted that the shark seemed calm and not aggressive.
Shark Encounters at Middles
May 8, 2018
- 2:30 pm- Mark Wolfe was surfing about 50 yards south of the lifeguard station in 8 feet of water and 35 to 50 yards from shore. About 50 yards due South, he heard some commotion in the water. Suddenly a sea lion popped its head up, and he noticed the water boiling around the animal. He then realized that a shark was attacking it. While watching, he could see the shark’s white underbelly, pectoral fin, dorsal fin, and caudal fin, as well as blood in the water. Seagulls were circling the area but would not dive into the water. He noted that the shark was larger than 8 feet and was moving fast. It seemed as if two sharks were attacking the sea lion, not just one. The shark immediately left after the attack, but he could not see its direction. Once back onshore, another surfer mentioned that he saw a sea lion in the water over at Church (just south of Middles) just before the attack happened.
Church Shark Sightings
Church surf break is located in San Onofre Beach Campground, Camp Pendleton’s private military campsite.
August 17, 2004
- 11:00 am – A father and son were surfing 100 yards offshore when they encountered a 6 to 8-foot great white shark 20 yards from them.
November 6, 2006
- 5:30 pm- John Hamner was surfing 100 yards from shore in 8 feet of water at sunset when he saw a 10 to 16-inch dorsal fin. It never turned toward him or exhibited any interest.
July 17, 2009
- 12:30 pm- Eric Bebson reported via Surfline.com that while surfing 80 to 100 yards offshore, he says a triangular dorsal fin swimming south on the surface for 8 seconds. When he went back onshore, he saw a sea lion swimming inside the surf line very fast, like something was chasing it.
June 29, 2009
- 8:00 am- Andrew Horn was surfing in 6 feet of water paddling north towards Middles, when he noticed a water boil and thought it was a seal. Next, a shark surfaced with its nose, dorsal fin, and tail showing above the water. It was moving slowly and cruising for fish. He thought it might have been a thresher shark.
April 29, 2017 #
- It was reported that during the late afternoon, Leeanne Ericson was wading in the water at Church while her boyfriend was surfing. Both noticed a seal/seal lion was in the water. When her boyfriend was going out for another wave and turned around, Leeanne disappeared under the water. A 10-foot great white shark attacked her and took a bite out of her back right leg, removing all of the muscles from her knee to her hip. Once back onshore, a tourniquet was applied to help control the bleeding, and she was then airlifted to the hospital. She survived! Hallelujah!
The Enormous Amount of Shark Sightings at San Onofre Surf Beach
The San Onofre Surf Beach is located just south of the Church and North of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS). The beach is divided into three sections: North to South, The Point, Old Man’s, and Dogpatch.
Shark Encounters at The Point
November 13, 2009
- 4:30 pm- Mark McAllister and his brother Dave were getting ready to surf North of Old Man’s at The Point when they noticed some activity in the water. They witnessed many birds feeding on fish and a pod of at least ten dolphins. Both saw an 8-foot great white shark breach entirely out of the water, and then a second 5 to 6-foot great white shark breached right after.
October 20, 2009
- 6:45 am- Jeanette Francis was surfing in 15 to 20 feet of water when suddenly, a 5-6 foot great white shark breached straight out of the water onto its back, less than 10 feet away from her.
October 18, 2009
- 5:45 pm- Bill McMillen was surfing with two friends and witnessed an 8-foot great white shark breach entirely out of the water 250 feet south of their location. Later, while back onshore, they watch the shark’s dorsal fin in the water for more than 15 minutes.
July 19, 2009
- 6:30 pm- Justin Weber was surfing right in front of the lifeguard tower and noticed many baitfish in the water, and the water was swirling 25 yards in front of him. Suddenly, a dorsal fin appeared, and he guessed the shark was 5 to 6 feet.
July 7, 2009
- 7:15- 7:30 pm- Rudy Fontes surfed 100 yards offshore in the lineup in 8 to 10 feet of water. Suddenly a 6-foot great white shark jumped out of the water, wholly airborne and about 5 feet from the surface. It exposed its white belly, acting deranged like it was attacking something. It then swam off.
- 2:00 pm- Parker Redmond was out surfing a looking north toward Lowers when he saw a 4 to 5-foot shark leaping 4 feet out of the water. Twenty minutes later, he saw dolphins cruising the lineup.
Shark Encounters at Old Man’s Beach
November 6, 2003
- Jim Serpa reported a 5-foot juvenile female great white shark washing ashore at San Onofre Surf Beach. It was suggested that she was shot in the head. This incident is proceeding ten days after several reports of sharks via surfers in this area. There was also a dead whale beached off of Trail #1.
July 27, 2004
- 8:00-9:00 am– Jim Pomeroy was 30 yards beyond the surf line and observed a giant shark moving south.
May 13, 2004
- 3:00 pm- Dave Schulte was surfing 50 yards from shore in 5 to 7 feet of water when a 5-foot juvenile great white shark flipped the back half of its body out of the water. He continued to surf for another hour and noticed a considerable amount of baitfish in the water.
July 28, 2008
- 7:30 am- Sharla and several other surfers witnessed a shark tail and dorsal fin 25 feet away from the surf lineup. It was estimated to be about 5 to 6 feet long.
October 9, 2009
- 11:00 am- Bernard Wagor was paddling on his board and was about to catch a wave when he suddenly felt a hard, tough kick to his lower left shin. There was no one around, and then later, out of the water, he noticed the wound was not bleeding.
October 3, 2009
- 7:00 am- Brad Boothe and his companion surfed 50 yards offshore in 10 to 15 feet of water. While paddling out, he saw a shark breach 100 yards from them. He estimated then it was 4 to 5 feet long.
September 28, 2009
- 10:00 am- Steve Pena was surfing between Dogpatch and Old Man’s in 8 feet of water. He and about six other surfers saw an 8-foot great white shark breach out of the water about 200 yards from where they were surfing.
September 24, 2009
- Kenny O’Sullivan was out surfing for 2 hours at the lineup and saw a great white shark swim directly under his board. He then noticed a large amount of baitfish in the water and a tuna swimming away from him. He then observed two sharks, one over 6 feet and another 4 to 5 feet.
September 24, 2009
- 2:15 pm- Kenny Blunt was surfing 15 to 20 feet of water when he noticed a triangular dorsal fin 20 feet away. Twenty minutes later, something breached out of the water. He estimated that the shark was 6 to 8 feet long.
September 24, 2009
- 12:00 pm- Ryan Schopen surfed south of Old Man’s in 20-foot-deep water. He noticed there were a lot of baitfish in the water. A shark fully breached out of the water 30 yards away from him. Later, when back onshore, he saw it breach again.
September 18, 2009
- 11:25 am- Rick Nagle and his wife surf 50 yards from shore between Old Man’s and Dogpatch in 8 to 10 feet of water. While waiting for a wave, they noticed that 30 to 40 yards away, a 6-foot great white shark fully breached straight up, revealing its white underbelly.
July 23, 2009
- 1:00 pm- L.L. Wickham was surfing outside Old Man’s and saw a shark 20 feet away from him and other surfers. He claims that the shark jumped 5 to 6 feet in the air.
July 21, 2009
- 4:30 pm- Mike Garrett was surfing with 15 to 20 other surfers in 10 feet of water. There was spotted, by all, a small fin outside of the lineup 15 feet away. He then noticed another shark swimming diagonally toward the front of his board about 5 feet away, moving slowly about 3 to 4 feet below the surface.
July 18, 2009
- 2:00 pm- Andy Mulay was paddling several yards outside the other surfers when he noticed a shark swimming below him. He estimated it was about 6 feet long.
July 7, 2009
- 7:30 pm- Kevin Rust and several companions surfed North of Old Man’s 100 yards offshore in 8 to 10 feet of water. They saw a 4 to 5-foot great white shark jump 3 feet up from the water, with its white underbelly facing them.
June 24, 2011 #
- 1:30 pm- Doug Green was surfing the surf break Four Doors, located just south of The Point. He was about 900 feet from shore in 10-15 feet of water. While sitting on his board upright, waiting for a wave, suddenly a shark jumped onto the front of his board! The 5-foot shark shimmied itself off his surfboard and disappeared under the water. Four other surfers who were 10 meters (33 feet) also witnessed the event.
May 6, 2018
- 1:35 pm- Leo Simone was surfing in 8 to 10 feet of water at Old Man’s. When paddling back to the lineup after riding a wave, he noticed that everyone around him was lying flat on their boards. Someone yelled that it was coming his way. He then looked down into the water and saw an 8-foot great white shark in front of him. The shark continued toward him and passed diagonally under the nose of his board, close enough to touch. The shark then turned toward the other surfers in the lineup. He noted that the shark did not act aggressively but seemed very calm. Once back onshore, another surfer told him three sharks were in the water, and the one he saw was the biggest.
October 22, 2022
- A veteran surf photographer, Jordan Anast, got the shot of a lifetime! An estimated 10-foot-long great white shark was caught breaching just behind the surf line during the San Onofre Surf Clubs’ annual surfing contest.
July 13, 2023
- Drone footage was taken by YouTuber, Kevin Christopherson of four great white sharks swimming under many unaware surfers, just north of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS), and in front of Old Man’s Beach at San Onofre State Beach. The video highlights the docile sharks meandering underneath the wave riders.
Shark Sightings at Dogpatch
Dogpatch is located at the very south end of San Onofre Surf Beach. Here is where the water usually is very calm, so it is ideal to go stand-up paddleboarding (SUP). It is also important to note that dogs are allowed within this section of the beach.
September 12, 2009
- 5:00 pm- Jason Wood was SUP in 8 to 12 feet of water when he noticed a giant gray shark, about 10 feet long, swimming toward him serpent-like. He noted that the shark was only about one foot under the water and had the circumference of a trashcan.
August 11, 2009
- 2:00 pm- Scott Chambers was SUP when he noticed a small 4-foot shark cruising south. Thirty minutes later, an 8 to 10-foot shark swam under his board, swimming west.
July 22, 2009
- 2:00 pm- John Gugliotta was fishing from his kayak, 1/4 miles north of the San Onofre Power Plant. He was fishing in 11 feet of water outside of breaking waves about 60 yards from the surfers. A halibut was hanging off his kayak when he saw a 5 to 7-foot shark coming toward him. Quickly, he pulled the fish in, and the shark surfaced. The shark got spooked when he tried to paddle away. He believes the shark just being curious.
- 7:30- 8:00 pm- Briana Madden saw a shark jump out of the water 30 to 40 yards from outside the surf break
July 15, 2009
- 11:30 am- Eric Tremaine was on his SUP 50 to 100 yards offshore in 10 to 15 feet of water. He noticed the shadow of a giant shark. For 15 to 20 minutes, he paddled alongside her for 1/4 of a mile. The shark was sometimes less than 7 feet away from his board. When she started to blend with the eelgrass below, he lost her and came back inshore. He estimates that she was about 8 feet long. It was noted that 3 to 4 dolphins were in the water before entering.
July 13, 2009
- 10 am- Diane Wenzel and several companions were SUP past the surf lineup in 4 to 6 feet of water. There was a vast amount of baitfish in the water, and she noticed a bunch of bubbles. She then saw a 6-8 foot shark swim under her board. She stated then she felt as if the shark was following her.
July 11, 2009 #
- 8:30 am- Brian Hovnanian and Lance E. were SUP near a reef South of Dogpatch, 50 yards offshore. Brian paddled out with his friend, who was about 30 feet behind him. Suddenly, he felt something hit the back of his board and slam into his left calf, making him lose his balance and fall backward onto a great white shark. The shark got scared and immediately fell back into the water.
July 9, 2009
- 6:00 pm- Greg McLaughlin was SUP in 10 feet of water when an 8-foot great white shark swam below him 5 feet below the surface.
- 2:00 pm- Tom Holbrook was SUP in 5 feet of water with a considerable amount of baitfish. Suddenly he noticed a 6-foot shark a bit on its side looking up at him from under the water.
July 6, 2009
- 12:00 pm- Ron Wood was SUP in 8 feet of water and saw a 6 to 8-foot shark swim under his board. He also noted later that the shark was circling two kids in the water.
July 2, 2009
- 10:30 am- Brett Kelts and his companion were SUP in 15 feet of water and saw a 5-foot great white shark jump one foot out of the water.
June 28, 2009
- 9:30 am- 10:45 am- Steve Butcher reported several great white shark sightings of a large 8 to 9-foot shark. Several guys near him said the shark jumped out of the water near the lineup. Two SUP also had the shark swim under their boards.
May 16, 2009
- 6:00 am- Lori Coble reported that two SUP witnessed a 6 to 8-foot great white shark.
- 10:00 am- Over twenty SUP witnessed a 6 to 8-foot great white shark breaching out of the water.
April 25, 2009
- 9:00 am- Marcus at Surfline reported that Dan O’Donnel and others were (SUP) when a 6 to 8-foot great white shark breached next to them. He also noted then a dead sea lion was rolling around the shore break.
- 9:30 am- Zach Ross reported that a friend was surfing between Trail #1 and Old Man’s and saw a triangular dorsal fin.
- 10:00 am- Drew Senner was surfing and heading NW parallel to the beach, and something rough hit him on the leg. He believed the shark was 8-10 feet long.
April 22, 2009
- 5:00 pm- Marcus from Surfline reported that Matthew Fry was SUP when a 5 to 6-foot great white shark swam underneath the nose of his board.
January 19, 2009
- 2:00 pm- Jason Jacobs reported that Drew Fisher encountered a 7-foot great white shark breach 4 feet out of the water, about 30 feet away from him. He thinks the shark may have been attracted to a paddleboarder who had his dog with him. The dog was swimming around and thrashing in the water.
July 2, 2010 #
- 3:30 pm- David Bull was SUP 300 yards from shore in 10 feet of water. He reported paddling back out to the lineup when he suddenly felt something hit the back of his board, making it turn 90 degrees. Initially, he thought he must have hit some kelp. But while putting the paddle back into the water on his right, he saw a considerable shark a few feet from the surface, looking back up at him to balance himself. Also included is that he noticed the shark looked like it was trying to straighten itself out after the impact with the board. Once both were situated, David looked at the shark and believed it was an 8-foot great white. The shark then slowly swam away but still had an eye on the paddle board as it departed.
I had to add this video to give you more of an idea of what it would be like to be offshore with a couple of sharks circling your SUP.
With two friends, Chuck Patterson had been SUP the day before and saw two sharks circling for fifteen minutes. So the next day, he returned to the same spot, but his Go Pro was attached to his paddle this time. What he witnessed next was mind-blowing!
Me, my Shark, and I from Chuck Patterson on Vimeo.
Shark Encounters In Front of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS)
September 5, 2003
- A 10-foot great white shark was reported in the surf zone 3/4 mile north of Trail #1, in front of Unit #1 at SONGS.
September 15, 2009
- 9:00 am- Brett Camarata and his companion were fishing for halibut in 40 feet of water in front of SONGS. They witnessed a 7 to 8-foot great white shark 10 feet away from the boat, about 3 feet under the water.
September 9, 2009
- 11:00 am- Toby Zoerhof was fishing in a kayak in front of SONGS in 15 to 20 feet of water. He was drifting over a rock reef when a massive shark breached approximately 150 yards outside him. About 10 minutes after the leap, no more fish were in the water. He then saw a 10-foot shark glide 7 feet away from him.
June 28, 2009
- 11:00 am- Chris Pollinger was jet-skiing 300 yards from shore in front of SONGS and witnessed a 5-foot juvenile great white shark jump partially out of the water. He continued to follow it into deeper waters until he lost sight of it.
July 20, 2009
- 4:30 pm- Justin Wang was (SUP) with a couple of anglers spearfishing near his location. He was trying to catch a wave about 150 yards in front of SONGS when suddenly he saw a shark swimming alongside him 3 to 4 feet under the water. The shark was 6 feet away from him and began to swim under his board and then did a u-turn and came back under again. He added that he poked at the shark a few times before returning. Later, onshore, he spoke with one of the spearfishermen and was told that it looked like the shark kept coming toward him, trying for his fish pouch.
February 1, 2009
- Marty Colombatto reported three different shark sighing experiences while SUP over the past month, ending with today in this location. Each time he was paddling south to a surf break at the south end of SONGS. On one occasion, he recalls seeing a seal swimming north about 100 yards offshore but noted that it didn’t seem afraid. The first time he was catching a wave, at 30-50 yards away from the shore, he saw a shark swimming under his board about 2 to 3 feet under the surface. In the second encounter, the shark was swimming in front of him but got spooked the closer he got to it. The third time is when he got the best look at the shark. A shark was sitting motionless 2 feet underwater and was estimated to be 6 to 7 feet long and 12 to 18 inches wide. He thinks there must have been more than one shark present each time.
January 30, 2009
- 1:30 pm- 2 pm- Keith Lee was SUP south of SONGS in 8 to 15-feet deep water, 20 feet outside the surf zone. He witnessed an 8-foot great white shark traveling in the same direction as him on the right side, but it never broke the surface.
Shark Sightings at Bluff’s Beach- San Onofre State Beach
Bluffs Beach is located underneath the San Onofre State Beach Bluffs Campground off Old Highway 101. Below, I have provided a map that will give you an idea of where each shark sighting took place.
I highly recommend hiking all of these trails, as the views from the bluffs here are out of this world! Next time I come here, I plan on sitting up above these bluffs and being on the lookout for great white sharks breaching. I wonder how long I will have to wait to see any action.
Trail # 1 Shark Sightings
September 12, 2003
- A Lifeguard personally reported seeing a great white shark breach 300 yards from shore at Trail #1.
September 3, 2003
- 2:00 pm- Lifeguard Supervisor Jim Serpa said a 6-foot shark breached 200 yards offshore at Trail #1.
August 27, 2003
- A US Coast Guard helicopter was hovering near Trail #1 and spotted great white sharks. The largest was estimated to be 17 feet a was seen further from shore than the three smaller sharks.
August 10. 2004
- 11:30 am– David Schulte reported seeing a 6 to 8-foot shark 30 -50 yards from shore in 5 to 10 feet of water from the top of the bluffs overlooking Trail #1. He proceeded to record the shark for 30 minutes, swimming back and forth over the offshore reef.
June 26, 2004 #
- 9:00 am- Steve Long, the Captain of the San Onofre Lifeguards, reported that Kelly French, an experienced surfer, was surfing 100 yards offshore when a shark passed his surfboard. The shark then turned and approached the rear of his board and struck, turning 90 degrees. He estimated the shark to be bigger than his 9-foot surfboard.
March 8, 2008
- 11:30 am- 12 pm- Chris Parlis and his brother-in-law surfed and noticed the water boiling next to his brother-in-law, who was paddling back out after catching a wave. A 7-foot shark passed the tail of his board while paddling, making a perfect “T.” The shark then continued north and disappeared.
March 5, 2008
- Kelly Lewis came across a 6-foot salmon shark. The shark spent 2 to 3 minutes in shallow water, sometimes on his back. The beach is a very flat sand bar, and the shark was stranded where there were rocky depressions. The shark waited for the waves to return, but it looked lethargic and swimming on its side. She believed then it might have been injured.
Trail #4 Shark Encounters
May 19, 2004
- 7:00 am- Mike Brennan was surfing when he noticed a dorsal fin coming toward him. He put his feet on the surfboard and watched the shark descend like a submarine. Several minutes later, it swam away from him.
May 23, 2009
- 3:30 pm- Joey Duncan was standing above the cliffs above Trail #4 when he saw a 7 to 8-foot great white shark. He also noted having seen five dead seals in the same location this past year. Three weeks prior, there was a dead seal with noticeable bite marks.
May 3, 2009
- 9:00-9:30 am- Ryan Tang and his companions noted that before entering the water to surf, they saw 4 to 7 dolphins. While surfing, he observed a 12-inch triangular dorsal fin 30 feet away and came in with a new wave. Suddenly, he starts seeing several rounded dorsal fins around the same time. Unexpectedly, many dolphins started to leap and breach the back of the wave near them. About ten minutes later, many birds started circling and diving due to the large amount of baitfish. He decided to move more North and continued to surf. Once back onshore, another surfer commented that he, too, saw the shark as well.
Trail # 5 Great White Shark Sightings
April 7, 2008
- 6:30 pm- Julius Morck was surfing 300 feet from shore when he encountered a dark triangular 12 to 18-inch dorsal fin cruising about 100 feet from the surf break heading South.
November 20, 2009
- 9:15 am- Dan Raddon was sitting on his surfboard looking out on the horizon when he noticed that 30 yards away, a 17-inch dorsal fin and the back of a shark breached the water quickly. He then stated that the shark breached again, right next to some birds. The shark was estimated to be about 10 feet long.
October 24, 2009 #
- 5:30 pm- Scott Barton and Emily Sondergaard were surfing 20 yards offshore in 4 feet of water. They both noticed that there was a lot of baitfish in the water. Scott had just caught a wave and paddled back out when he felt something brush against his calf. Then, several sharp teeth suddenly punctured his big toe and the underside of his left foot. After he shook his leg, the shark came off. Once back onshore, there was evidence of the attack. It was demonstrated that the three punctures and interspace measurements of 1 cm or .4 inches between each cut are consistent with a small shark’s upper and lower jaw teeth.
Shark Sightings on Trail #6
October 27, 2008
- The following report was given by “Sig” to Marcus via Surfline.com. Sig was speaking with a fellow surfer onshore at Newport Beach. He states that this surfer had a spectacular previous experience at Trail #6 at San Onofre State Beach. When he was done surfing and was on the beach, he noticed 3 to 4 large triangular dorsal fins moving around erratically right in the surf line. One shark was described as “as big as a small car!”
October 22, 2009
- 3:00 pm- Matthew Paladini and his friend Steve were out surfing in 10 -15 feet of water when suddenly a giant shark (7 to 8 feet) partially breached about 50 feet outside the lineup. After about two minutes, he saw a dorsal fin come out of the water and then go down again.
May 3, 2009
- 4:00 pm- Lars Marstaller was sitting on his board waiting for a wave when he saw a 15-inch triangular dorsal fin 70 feet away. About 10 to 15 minutes later, a 5 to 6-foot, very robust great white shark jumped out of the water in the exact location where he had seen the dorsal fin previously.
April 25, 2006
- 11:00 am- Ryan Warrick was surfing 100 to 150 yards from shore. He recalls that the Lifeguard truck was moving down the beach every 200 yards, telling everyone about a shark one mile offshore and advising all to exit the water. Everyone got out of the water except him. A small wave was breaking in front of him when suddenly, a 24-inch dorsal fin appeared. He recalls that it looked huge and faux. Immediately he turned around to paddle back in. He spied a 10 to 12-foot great white shark riding the wave behind him when he looked back over his shoulder. Just after he got back onshore, he asked a couple of other surfers what had happened. They remarked that a few dolphins circled him as if they were protecting him from the shark when paddling back in.
Oceanside Shark Sightings
Oceanside is located just south of Marine Base Camp Pendleton and is home to Oceanside Harbor and the Oceanside Pier. During the year, the San Luis Rey River connects to the ocean just south of the harbor. All of the beaches of Oceanside are flat and sandy.
I do recall, once, while working as a fisheries technician (a long time ago), a recreational fishing boat I was surveying at Oceanside Harbor had a dead 4 to 5-foot great white shark onboard. I told them that having it was illegal and did remind them that it was just an infant. The memory of that shark will permanently be seared in my mind. It was an unfortunate day.
August 9, 2007
- 1:45 pm- Ted Torey, a lifeguard at Oceanside Surf Camp, noticed a 10 to 12-foot shark in 15 to 25 feet of water. He recalls that it was at the surface outside the surf line about 1000 yards north of Oceanside Pier, moving quickly north.
July 17, 2007
- 1:00 pm- Geri Buchholz was bodysurfing near Cassidy Street in 3 feet of water in the surf break when she noticed a shark swimming toward her about 60 feet from the South. The shark swam past her towards another surfer. Both continued to watch the shark swim away North. Both stayed in the water and continued to surf.
June 1, 2008
- 1:00 pm- Ruthie Smith and her husband Scott surfed south of Cassidy Street about 100 yards from shore in 10 feet of water. They both saw a sizeable slow-moving object just past the swells.
April 4, 2009
- 7:30 am- Jim Reynolds surfed at Buccaneer Beach in 6 to 8 feet of water. When he was paddling out, he saw a 6-foot shark in a wave swimming south. He noted that the shark passed underneath him by 2 feet.
June 25. 2019
- 6:00 pm- Julie Wolfe was out 2 miles due West of the Oceanside Harbor entrance when all of a sudden, she felt something hit her outrigger canoe hard from underneath. She looked around and didn’t see anything but immediately started paddling back toward shore. Unfortunately, the canoe was taking on water. About a minute later, she felt something tugging on her paddle. Once back into the Harbor, she becamHarbore of several bite marks on the canoe. The intermediate spaces between the puncture marks on the boat suggested an 11 to 12-foot great white shark.
Carlsbad Shark Sightings
Carlsbad is located south of Oceanside, north of Encinitas, and is home to the Agua Hedionda Lagoon and the Batiquitos Lagoon. Both saltwater lagoons connect to the ocean year-round. Offshore there are many reefs, and the bluffs are very close to the shore.
June 26, 2005
- 2:30 pm- Frankie Claus and his friend were surfing in 5 feet of water at Ponto Beach when he noticed a triangular dorsal fin swimming about 15 feet away. He estimated it to be around 5 feet in length.
April 30, 2005
- 5:25 pm- Tyler Madison and his companion were surfing Carlsbad State Beach in 12 feet of water when he saw a dorsal fin parallel to the beach. At one point, the shark followed his friend as he paddled back out.
July 7, 2008
- 8:00 pm- Pedro Vasquez and his companion surfed at Tamarack State Beach about 300 feet from shore when he saw a 10-inch dorsal fin 30 feet away from him. This sighting was his third encounter at this beach this week.
- June 27- At Terramar Beach, between 4-5 pm, 300 feet from shore, he felt a bump on the back of his board while sitting. He remarked that the shark swam under his board and estimated it to be about 5 to 6 feet long.
- June 21-Between 4-6 pm, at Terramar Beach, a female surfer fell off her board. When she tried to get back on, she felt something substantial hit her leg.
June 27, 2008
- 4:10 pm- Stephen Lux was swimming North of Tamarack Beach, about 100 yards from shore. While swimming the backstroke, he glanced to his right, and in a southwesterly direction, he saw a 24-inch dark triangular dorsal fin swimming parallel to him and then submerging.
June 22, 2008
- 5:00 pm- Don Persichitti was walking along Terramar Beach and came across a seal carcass with 1-inch wide teeth marks missing its head.
June 3, 2008
- 10:30 am- Scott Ball and Kyle Faust spearfished 15 feet of water off Carlsbad State Beach. When Scott was near the bottom, he noticed something huge swimming toward him. He immediately swam up to tell Kyle. After he went down again, an eye the size of a fist was staring back at him less than 1 to 2 feet away. The shark stared him down and then casually swam away. When paddling back to shore, he noticed a 24 to 36-inch high dorsal fin following him. When the shark got close to him, it sank to the bottom. Once back onshore, a stranded sea lion was being harassed by 3 to 4 people because it refused to go back into the water.
May 1, 2008
- 6:15 am- Ken Winfield observed an 8 to 10-foot great white shark in a confrontation with eight dolphins while driving in his car over the jetties at Tamarack Beach. It was reported that water was flying everywhere in between the jetties. He then remarked that at least 50 to 60 dolphins were in the area and saw two small dolphins depart after the interaction. Ken heard from someone afterward that about an hour later, a sea lion pup was attacked at Cassidy Street in Oceanside, less than a one-half mile north.
April 16, 2008
- Ken Winfield came across a dead adult sea lion near Cherry Street. He also added that his daughter saw a dead sea lion on the beach in Encinitas around J Street on April 24.
August 25, 2009 #
- 4:30 pm- Bethany Edmond was swimming at Terramar Beach 250 -300 feet from shore in 8-10 feet of water. She was swimming in the surf lineup, taking pictures, and trying out her new camera. Suddenly a 14-inch sea bass jumped out of the water. She then felt a sharp pain in her foot, and thirty seconds later, she felt the same pain. Bethany then started to swim away from the area but was hit on the upper right thigh. The brunt of the impact propelled her a foot out of the water. Still trying to get back to shore, the shark dragged her under the water for 5 to 6 seconds. After kicking at the shark, it finally released her. Back on the beach, she noticed no blood, just inflammation. The interspace measurement and configuration of the individual tooth punctures to the foot and calf represent a 5 to 6-foot juvenile white shark.
July 13, 2009
- Austin De La Luz was bodyboarding at Pine Street when he observed a seal/ sea lion on the beach covered with a white sheet. He noted that it appeared to have been bitten by a shark.
June 13, 2009
- 11:00 am- Aaron Byzak was bodyboarding at Tamarack Beach in front of the parking lot 50 yards from shore. While in a wave, he saw a 6 to 7-foot shark underneath him heading perpendicular to the shoreline and returning to sea. He also noted that he viewed a dolphin in the area 30 minutes afterward.
July 7, 2023
- A great white shark was seen swimming near the surf line near Tower 28 at South Carlsbad State Beach, 250 to 300 yards from shore at 1 pm. The shark was estimated to be 8 to 10 feet long and was nonaggressive, and not interacting with beachgoers. Shark advisory signs were posted -“Swim at your own risk,” 100 yards north of Tower 28 and at the entrance of Terramar Beach.
Encinitas Shark Sightings
Encinitas is one of my favorite places to be. There is a huge surfing community here. The San Elijo Lagoon inlet connects to the ocean in southern Encinitas. Dolphins are regularly seen off the shore of Encinitas to Carlsbad. Half of the coast of Encinitas is designated as a Marine Conservation Area, so offshore vessel fishing is not permitted.
February 16, 2005
- 4:40 pm- Billy Winslow, age 13, saw a shark during surf school at Beacon’s Beach. While putting on his wetsuit on the beach, he noticed splashing near the kelp beds at twenty-second intervals. Once out in the surf line, he saw splashes and a seal being launched out of the water. None of the other students saw the shark, but the instructors onshore sure did.
January 8, 2008
- 8:40 am- Pete Schomaker surfed near the San Elijo Lagoon inlet at Suckouts in 4 to 6 feet of water. While riding a wave, he looked down and saw a 5 to 6-foot shark underneath him. He later learned that this shark is a “local” and likes to hang out inside the reef where the San Elijo Creek empties into the ocean.
May 5, 2009
- 9:15 am- Chris Greenup was surfing off of Moonlight Beach, and while sitting on his board, he noticed on his right, about 50 feet away, the entire white underbelly of a great white shark. The shark was twisting and seemed like it was attacking prey. It was noted that the dorsal fin was 16 inches long, and estimated the shark had been 10 feet plus. He added that he had been surfing here the day before and noticed a seal pup popping up in the water from time to time.
September 29, 2018
- 7:00 am- A thirteen-year-old male was skin-diving for lobster in 9 feet of water, 155 feet from shore near Neptune Ave at Beacon”s Beach. The lobster season had just opened an hour prior, so many divers were in the water. The boy screamed that a shark had bitten him. Those nearby rescued him from the water, and pressure was applied to the wound by three men in a kayak. By sheer luck, one of the men was an off-duty police officer and another an off-duty State Beach Lifeguard. It was noted that the shark continued to follow them when bringing the boy back to shore. His injuries were extensive. It was reported that his whole clavicle had been ripped open. The young man was airlifted to the hospital and was in critical condition. It was later revealed that a great white shark attacked him via genetic testing of his wetsuit. Dr. Chris Lowe coordinated testing with the Shark Lab of California State University, Long Beach. All water activities from South Ponto in Carlsbad down to Swami’s State Beach were closed 48 hours after the attack. Authorities estimated that the shark was 11 feet long.
April 29, 2020
- 5:45 pm- A young man was bodyboarding/surfing near C Street and Moonlight Lane when his board was aggressively bumped by a shark, according to Encinitas lifeguard Captain Larry Giles. The victim recalled seeing a giant shark circling him and believed he had kicked it. In response to the attack, one mile of beach, both North and South, were closed for 24 hours afterward.
Cardiff-by-the-Sea Shark Sightings
Cardiff-by-the-Sea is a coastal community in southern Encinitas. The Cardiff Reef offshore is a very popular surfing and fishing site.
May 11, 2009
- 7:00 pm- Jon Wood and his companion Nate were spearfishing for white sea bass in 25 feet of water. While near the bottom, he saw a shark’s tail as it was swimming away. When he surfaced, his companion said he saw a dorsal fin circling 30 yards out. Then from the corner of his eye, 5 feet away, he saw a splash and a shark’s tail disappearing into the water.
April 9, 2009
- 6:30 am- Glen Ford was SUP with a group from Cardiff Reef to Del Mar. When they returned at 8:15 am, a dead dolphin was on the beach with significant bites. The size of the bite marks estimated that it had been attacked by an 8 to 10-foot shark. He also noted many sea lions and dolphins inside and outside the surf break. Dolphins were also seen at 1/2 mile offshore.
- Another paddler, Arnie Barger, observed two dolphins charge something.
- 9:00 am- Connie McDowell was about to surf when she saw a dead dolphin with two bites: one 10-inch bite in the underbelly and one under the jaw.
- Two female biologists on the beach speculated that the Common dolphin could have died after getting tangled up in fishing gear and was bitten by a scavenger shark. (Common dolphins are found further offshore than pacific bottlenose dolphins.)
August 9, 2019
- 9:30 am- A woman reported seeing a shark swimming and breaching out of the water offshore of Cardiff State Beach, near the San Elijo Lagoon inlet. Later in the morning, a severely injured sea lion washed onto the shore in the same area. It was believed to have been attacked by a shark. The sea lion had a large laceration on its back and most of its tail was missing. Signs were posted that warned beachgoers of an aggressive shark in the area and entering the ocean at their own risk.
Solana Beach Shark Sightings
San Diego’s second shark fatality happened in Solana Beach, north of Del Mar and South of Encinitas. South Solana Beach is located near the San Dieguito Lagoon inlet.
July 28, 2005
- 8:30 am- John A was surfing 200-300 feet from shore at South Solana Beach. While sitting on his surfboard, he noticed a shark breaching almost vertically and coming entirely out of the water about 500 feet away. He estimated the shark to have been 10 to 15 feet long.
September 17, 2008
- 630 pm- Jack Hanlon and friends surfed in Solana Beach near Del Mar in 5 to 10 feet of water. They all saw a 4to 5-foot shark swim underneath them while waiting for a wave. The shark didn’t seem interested at all. He also noted that they all saw dolphins thirty minutes before the shark encounter.
May 4, 2008
- Eric reported this encounter via Surfline– He was surfing Table Tops 40 feet from the surf break when suddenly, a great white shark surfaced on its side, exposing its white belly to him.
April 25, 2008 #
- 7:00 am- Dr. David Martin, a retired veterinarian, was swimming north with eight San Diego Triathlon Club companions about 100- 150 yards from shore at Fletcher Cove. A fellow club member, Rob Hill, was running on the beach with the swimmers when he heard David scream “SHARK!!” while flaying his arms and sinking back down under the water. Two companions swam to his rescue and brought him back onto the shore. Paramedics tried to revive him but were not able to. After an autopsy, it was determined by the interspace measurements between the bite marks that the shark was estimated to have been 15 to 16 feet long.
Del Mar Shark Sightings
The City of Del Mar is situated south of Solana Beach, the San Dieguito Lagoon inlet, and North of Torrey Pines State Beach (La Jolla).
July 24, 2005
- 2:30 pm- Steve Simpson and his girlfriend surfed south of 15th Street about 150 yards from shore in 8 to 10 feet of water. He paddled out to catch a wave when he noticed a 5-inch dorsal fin pop out of the water. His girlfriend, a couple of minutes later, saw a shadow. They decided to go inshore for 15 minutes and watch the water. When paddling out again, he noted then there were baitfish zigzagging and breaking the water surface. While watching the fish, he saw a 6 to 7-foot torpedo-shaped shark swim underneath him. Due to its shape and color, he believed it was a juvenile great white shark.
May 29, 2008
- Jenny Beyler found a seal carcass on the beach near 11th Street, with a couple of bites taken out of it with its lower end bitten off.
May 24, 2008
- 8:30 am- Micheal J. Day was surfing near a little reef near 9th Street. While waiting for a set near the surf line, he noticed some commotion in the water about 100 to 150 yards before him and saw a 12 to 14-inch dorsal fin. He then decided to exit the water and watched the dorsal fin swimming North to South for five more minutes.
May 24, 2008
- This report was given to Marcus on Surfline.com from JK, who was given a third-hand information. He stated that his son’s friend saw a 15-foot great white shark approaching the surf line at 11th Street. He also reported that another surfer saw a sea lion leaping out of the water and repeatedly barking as if something was chasing it.
July 21-26, 2019
- For the past five days, sharks have been seen off the coast of Del Mar near 15th and 29th Streets. Lifeguards posted signs relaying the message to enter the water at your own risk. Drew Pierce was in the water and noted several 3 to 4-foot sharks traveling together under the waves.
–>New 2021 Great White Shark Information<–
While researching to keep up with the relevant sightings, I found this article from the San Diego Reader on May 4, 2021.
What is revealed is highly fascinating!
According to Chris Lowe, marine biologist and director of the Shark Lab at California State Long Beach: there may be 30 great white sharks off Solana Beach and Del Mar.
How did he come to this conclusion?
He noted that he saw seven different sharks in an area the size of a football field at one time.
By comparing shark tagging data from 2019-2020, Dr. Lowe has seen an uptick in shark sightings in the waters of San Diego.
Click on the above link for more information.
July 14, 2021
- Nineteen-year-old Kiran Hoover was flying his new drone over the ocean near 15th Street in Del Mar and noticed two juvenile great white sharks swimming near a few surfers. Kiran and his cousins decided to look closer, so they went out onto the water on stand-up paddleboards. Right underneath their boards, they witnessed 7 to 8 sharks!
October 20, 2021
- Scott Fairchild, a local drone photographer, captured a shark swimming near a father and son surfing together in Del Mar. What he found odd was how calm and cool the father seemed as pointing out the shark to his son. Fairchild, who lives in La Jolla, noted that he regularly sees 2 to 3 great white sharks when he flies hi, and thee. The most significant time was when he witnessed 13 great whites at one time!
November 4, 2022#
- A 50-year-old woman was swimming offshore of 17th Street with a companion around 10 am and was bitten by a juvenile great white shark. She described the attack as similar to a dog biting and shaking her right leg and then releasing it. The shark’s strike was so powerful that she was thrust out of the water. She was immediately taken to the hospital and treated for her wounds.
Torrey Pines Shark Sightings
Torrey Pines State Beach is located within La Jolla, South of Del Mar, and North of Pacific Beach. La Jolla’s pristine coastline is lined with spectacular bluffs that continue to Pacific Beach.
February 14, 2005
- 8:30 am- Scott Louther was surfing in 8 feet of water about 40 yards from shore when he noticed a 24-inch dorsal fin swimming 20 yards south of him. He estimated the length between the dorsal fin and the tail to be 8 feet long. The shark swam in a slow circle for about 20 seconds and then slowly descended, heading South.
October 22, 2008
- A large seal carcass with bite marks was found on the shore of Black’s Beach.
April 18, 2009
- 9:00-10:00 am- Alex Kaseberg was stand-up paddleboarding 100 yards offshore and 400 yards south of Tower 1 when he saw a dorsal fin 50 feet away heading south.
March 23, 2018
- 8:30 am- Tony B. was sitting on his surfboard, waiting for a wave in 8 feet of water, 30 yards from shore. Suddenly, he noticed a 24-inch triangular dorsal fin surface 20 yards south of him. The shark was coming from the South, heading North in the surf line, and descended under the water. He estimated the length between the dorsal fin and tail to have been 7 feet long. Tony also noted that he saw dolphins before seeing the shark.
May 31, 2020
- Two credible shark sightings at Torrey Pines State Beach. The article does not state how many but ‘individuals’ reported that they were ‘bumped’ by something while in the water. No injuries were reported, but advisory warnings and signs were posted.
March 2, 2021
- Around 4:30 pm, Paul Hibberd was out flying his drone on Torrey Pines State Beach when he noticed a juvenile great white shark swimming underneath a surfer out in the water. He decided to return on March 4 and was surprised to see six more juvenile great white sharks swimming around. Biologists from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography looked at the video to confirm that six great white sharks swimming together in one area is rather unusual during the wintertime.
May 31, 2021
- Around noon, a swimmer reported to a lifeguard that they had seen a great white shark swimming around at Black’s Beach. Then at approximately 2:30 pm, lifeguards observed an injured California sea lion about 20-30 yards from shore. Lifeguards sent a boat out into the water and came across a 7-foot juvenile great white shark. The sea lion got away. Warning signs were posted for 24 hours.
- It has been noted, by Dr. Chris Lowe, that this is the first time in 16 years that he has observed a large aggregation (cluster) of juvenile great white sharks off the coast of San Diego. He noted that previously he had observed these clusters off of Santa Barbara, Santa Monica, and Huntington Beach.
- So far, he has tagged and is following over 120 juvenile sharks off San Diego via acoustic tags.
August 20, 2022
- A 10 to 13-foot shark was seen swimming around three divers spearfishing about 100 yards near the Flat Rock area. The shark merely observed and didn’t interact in any way.
October 30, 2022
- A woman was hiking near Beach Trail and stumbled onto a dead juvenile great white shark on the beach. Dr. Lowe of the Shark Lab at Cal State Long Beach determined the shark to be a two-year-old female. The shark had been previously tagged and followed since August 2022. It was determined that the shark most likely died due to fishing line entanglement.
July 14, 2023
- Three juvenile great white sharks were spotted at Black’s Beach feeding on a dead sea lion carcass. The sharks were estimated to be 6 to 9 feet long and it was noted that they were not exhibiting any aggressive behavior. Warning signs were posted one mile along the beach in both directions from where the original sighting took place.
La Jolla Shark Sightings
La Jolla has a wide range of beaches to explore. Located offshore are two deep underwater trenches, so deepwater species are not uncommon to visit this area.
The La Jolla Underwater Park, a popular snorkeling and scuba diving spot, begins towards the midpoint of La Jolla Shores Beach and ends at La Jolla Cove.
Almost all of La Jolla’s ocean waters are Marine Protected Areas.
June 14, 1959
- Robert L Pamperin was skin diving for abalone off La Jolla Cove with his friend Gerald Leher who witnessed the attack. Gerald recalled hearing his friend yell for help 60 feet away from him. He immediately swam toward him, and when he went under the water to find him, he saw that Roberts’ head, arms, and torso were in the mouth between the shark’s jaws. When a search party of divers combs the area the following day, they found no evidence of Robert. Sadly, Mr. Pamperin was San Diego’s first fatal shark attack. To read more, I found an exciting article-Blood, Flows in La Jolla Cove, The Mysterious Tale of Robert Pamperin.
June 24, 1995 #
- An unidentified woman from Sacramento was kayaking off of La Jolla Shores. Not much is known as to what happened. But, it was reported in several newspapers that a serrated tooth was extracted from her head. Three times someone has been attacked by a shark in the same location. The first was Robert L Pamperin’s fatal attack, and the second shark encounter happened on August 28, 2015. On this day, a hammerhead shark circled a swimmer group, leading the lifeguards to close water access as a public precaution.
September 2, 2005
- 3:pm- Suzanne Grue was standing at the end of the Breakwater Path over at the Children’s Pool when she noticed a 12-foot great white shark swimming towards the shore. When she returned home, she learned from her mother that there had been a suspected seal bite in the same area two days prior.
August 31, 2005
- John Smith of the Casa Beach Seals Group stated that the San Diego Lifeguard department reported that they found a recently attached harbor seal at the Children’s Pool in La Jolla. The lifeguards contacted sea World about the injured seal. The length of the tooth rows on the seal was approximately 24 inches. It was also noted that in June 2003, Sea World rescued an injured harbor seal pup in this exact location.
August 24, 2005 #
- 11:00 am- Tony Simonson was surfing near the Ellen Browning Scripps Memorial Pier about 30 feet from shore in 3 feet of water. He noted that there were many dolphins in the area eating baitfish. While heading back to beach, he stepped upon a shark that bit him on his lower right leg and the inside near his ankle. He only observed the shark when it was biting him, and then it let go. The intermediate measurements of the teeth marks suggest a juvenile 4-foot great white shark.
August 15, 2007
- 5:00- 6:00 pm- David Pollock was spearfishing at Windansea Beach in 15 feet of water, 50 yards off the coast, when he noticed a 7-foot shark following him. He was down towards the bottom, traveling with the current. When he turned to his right, a great white shark was less than an arm’s length away from him, and then it swam away.
July 29, 2009
- 7:00 pm- S. Banken was surfing at Big Rock Reef just south of Windansea Beach, about 150 yards offshore. Suddenly a rounded gray dorsal fin, 4 to 5 inches out of the water, was coming straight at him from the beach, about 15 feet away from him. He immediately paddled back to shore.
July 12, 2009
- 10:00- 11:00 am- Chris Hitt and Brian K. were scuba diving inside the 1/4 mile yellow buoy at La Jolla Shores. It was an overcast day, so they decided to use their compasses while swimming next to the ocean floor to navigate back to shore. Suddenly, while ‘standing’ on the bottom, Chris saw a shark swimming slowly toward them 10 to 15 feet away. The shark was less than an arm’s length away and stopped and stared at them face to face for 30-60 seconds and then lost interest and swam away. He also noticed how “robust” and “girthy” its shape was; a white underbelly and head circumference were at least 18 inches wide.
July 11, 2009
- 10:30 am- Kelly O’Sullivan and a companion were swimming near the 1/2 mile buoy between La Jolla Cove and La Jolla Shores within the La Jolla Underwater Park. They were looking at a bat ray at a depth of 5 to 6 feet. They both observed a dorsal fin, 8 to 10 feet away, coming straight at them when they surfaced. The shark then proceeded to circle them twice. While swimming back to shore erratically, Kelly kept flipping onto his back to see how far away the shark was. He noticed that it was following them about 10 feet behind. Thankfully, when he reached the 1/4 mile buoy, the shark was no longer there.
April 17, 2009
- Roger Steinhauer observed two dead seals below the parking lot south of Ellen Browning Memorial Scripps Pier. He noted that one seal had no visible wounds while the other had half of its body missing.
April 6, 2009 #
- Raymundo Ayus Jr. and his companion spearfished 3/4 mile offshore of Camino de la Costa in southern La Jolla. They had just shot a huge white sea bass 60 feet below, and it had gotten tangled in the kelp beds. While cutting the fishing line to untangle the fish, he noticed a small kelpfish dash off. Suddenly a 12to 15 foot female great white shark was 10 feet away, coming towards him, fixated on the fish in his hands. Raymundo then let go of the fish before the shark clamped onto it. He suddenly felt its left pectoral fin hit the right side of his face. He then surfaced and got his speargun from his companion. The shark continued to circle him four times. He would point the speargun at the shark at moments, and she would veer off to the side, and this was when his friend started swimming back to shore on top of the kelp. She did a ‘dance’ with him, swimming in front of him to cut him off, but would stop coming closer to him whenever he pointed his speargun at her. She then disappeared into the murky water when he was less than 100 yards from shore.
June 6, 2011 #
- 6:30 pm -Michael Bear reported on the Sevengill Shark website that a sevengill shark attacked free diver Justin Schlaefli near the reef of La Jolla Children’s Pool. He stated that he was with two other divers returning when the attack happened. He had been spearfishing and had just cleaned a calico bass and put it on his stringer 4 to 5 minutes before the shark struck him. There was evidence of the attack by several rips on his 5mm wetsuit, but thankfully, the bite broke no skin. After Justin was assaulted, the shark swam at another diver who shot it in self-defense. The shark disappeared after the other diver shot it.
May 28, 2019
- Witnesses at Black’s Beach reported seeing a 5-foot shark consuming a seal in the water. After many descriptions of the incident from several beachgoers, the lifeguards decided to close down 2.5 miles from Flat Rock to the Mushroom House. Here is a video of this incident taken by a helicopter pilot that just so happens to be at the scene.
August 19, 2019
- Two sharks were reported to have been viewed by kayakers near La Jolla Cove. Lifeguards patrolled the area, questioned the witnesses, and warned those in the area about the sightings.
July 21, 2022
- Nico Gibbons recorded a 14-foot great white shark encircling his fishing boat about 100 yards off La Jolla Cove, noting that the shark was going after a sea lion.
Pacific Beach Shark Sightings
Pacific Beach is a huge party town, so it should be no surprise that these beaches (including Mission Beach) are the most crowded in San Diego. North Pacific beach coastline shares the bluffs with La Jolla at Tourmaline Surf Park and Law Street beach. But as you continue, the beach becomes flat and sandy.
October 9, 2004
- 10:50 am- George Najjar, who lives across the street from Law Street Beach, was checking out the surf from the cliffs at an elevation of 750 feet. He noticed a 12 to 15-foot fish swimming in the waves 50 yards away from a bunch of surfers.
October 1, 2005
- 10:00 am- Chloe Feral was paddling out to go surfing at Law Street when she noticed a 4 to 5-foot Mackeral (great white) type of shark swimming slowly southward.
September 7, 2005,
- 7:45 am- William Lopez and Chuck Grey surfed off Law Street, 100 yards from shore in 6 feet of water. While waiting for a set, they noticed the water swirling around 40 feet away. Suddenly they saw a 24-inch dorsal fin swimming side to side. It was also noted that the diameter of the water displacement was over 15 feet wide.
July 12, 2008
- Dominick Volpini was SUP near Tower 20 and came across a severely injured dolphin with a huge chunk bitten out of its flipper. It was still alive, and several dolphins had made a protective circle around it.
May 29, 2008
- 6:15 pm- Russell Williams was spearfishing over the reef at Pacific Beach Point in 15-20 feet of water. He noticed a great white shark motionless 10 to 15 feet away from him. When he raised his speargun and pointed it at the shark, it swam away.
June 22, 2023
- Eric Fuss was fishing with a friend on Crystal Pier when he noticed a great white shark swimming north of the pier in shallow water about 10 feet away from surfers and swimmers outside of the surf break.
Ocean Beach Shark Sightings
Ocean Beach is another popular surfing and party beach. Ocean Beach pier, the longest concrete pier on the west coast (1971 feet), is situated next to miles of bluffs and reefs that continue down to Point Loma.
When in college, I had a few friends that lived down here and claimed that the city rumor of Ocean Beach Pier is that there is a resident female great white that is regularly seen here by the locals. I will have to dig deeper with more research, but the lack of evidence I have seen so far does not give credence to this claim. But who knows? I am eager to learn more.
- Chris Marks was diving and spearfishing with friends from a 43-foot sailboat anchored off the southern end of Ocean Beach. When he began to surface at a depth of 25 feet, he noticed a 6 to 7-foot shark heading toward him 30 feet away. He pointed his spear toward the shark, and it altered its course slightly. After he finally got to the surface and saw where the boat was, he looked down and saw the shark circling underneath him. Once he started toward the boat, the shark turned in the opposite direction and swam away. He noted that the shark remained calm and believed it was just curious.
Sunset Cliffs/ Point Loma Shark Encounters
April 21, 2004
- Two female surfers reported that while surfing off of Ladera Street, across from Point Loma Nazarene University, they saw a 10-foot shark swim under their boards. Once out of the water, they learned via the Lifeguards that a dead sea lion had washed up at this location the day before.
November 22, 2009
- 11:00 am- Ryan Levinson was SUP 150 yards from shore near Point Loma reef when he marked a sea lion acting abnormally. A visible gaping wound on its lower left abdominal quadrant was actively bleeding. He noted that the bite was circular and deep, consistent with a shark bite.
Offshore San Diego Shark Sightings
August 30, 2009
- 10:30 am -Jon Bunnell and two companions were diving/spearfishing 12 miles due South of San Diego Bay near the shipwreck USS Hogan at a depth of 135 feet. It is important to note that two fish were hanging off the boat on a stringer at the time of the incident. When one of the divers surfaced, he noticed one of the fish was gone, as well as an 8 to 10-foot hammerhead shark circling the boat. The two other divers were on their way up decompressing when they saw a half-eaten fish. The shark passed the two decompressing divers about 15 feet below, less than 10 feet away, and looked relaxed. After the first diver returned to the boat, the shark approached the fish again as if sniffing them, so he brought them into the boat. One of the divers believed it to have been a Great Hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran) and stated that it acted very calmly, like seeing any more food to eat.
August 23, 2022
- Fourteen miles off the coast of Mission Bay, a tuna charter boat, King Triton, witnessed a 13-foot female great white shark eating a sea lion right next to the boat.
September 5, 2022
- The San Diego Whale Watch vessel, The Privateer, witnessed a 25-foot extremely rare whale shark while looking for blue whales.
September 15, 2022
- Three fishermen spotted two megamouth sharks (Megachasma pelagios) while fishing 30 miles offshore.
Coronado Shark Sightings
Coronado Island is a large sand spit in San Diego Bay that connects to the mainland near Imperial Beach.
June 12, 2006
- 7:00 pm- Kristina Crowell-Swensen was on the beach watching her daughter bodyboarding in 5 to 6 feet of water. She recognized a 7 to 10-foot shark gliding behind the waves about 50 to 100 feet from shore.
April 17, 2019
- 9:00 am- A Border Patrol helicopter witnessed a 7-foot great white shark swimming in the shallow water adjacent to the shoreline about one mile north of Imperial Beach at Silver Strand State Beach. Less than an hour later, a Sherriff’s helicopter saw the same shark swimming offshore of Navy property within the city limits of Coronado. After hearing about the second sighting, Imperial Beach lifeguards went out onto the water to see if they could see the shark up close. They found the shark in 10 feet of water, just outside the surf line in the same area where the helicopter first saw it. No signs were posted because few people were in the area, and the shark did not seem aggressive. Lifeguards gave verbal warnings to those who chose to go into the water.
June 26-27, 2019
- Two 4-5 foot juvenile great white sharks were reported to have been seen off the coast of Coronado, 1/4 to 1/2 miles from shore. Witnesses observed no engaging or aggressive behavior.
May 26, 2020
- 2:00 pm- A lifeguard was SUP 100 yards from shore in 6 to 8 feet of water and witnessed a 12-foot great white shark. He noted that the shark was larger than the 11-foot paddleboard and acted calmly. Signs were posted for 24 hours as an advisory for the public. Lifeguard tryouts were held here on May 27 but were canceled due to the sighting.
December 30, 2020
- Coronado City Beach was closed for two days after a juvenile great white shark nipped a swimmer’s fin. Several surfers witnessed the incident, which happened during the afternoon.
March 1, 2021
- Alisa Kerr was looking out of her condo above Coronado Shores Beach when she spotted a great white shark swimming next to a surfer, Matt Erickson. Matt said he paddled out after riding a wave when he and the shark noticed each other simultaneously. He also noted that the shark seemed calm, so he kept surfing. Alisa also mentioned that she had never seen sharks from her window prior, but during this past week, she had seen several.
April 25, 2021
- At 8:30 am, a great white shark circled a long-distance swimmer 200 yards offshore, just north of the Hotel del Coronado. The swimmer also saw the shark and immediately turned around to swim back to shore. Because the shark took an interest in the swimmer by circling, this behavior warranted a Level 2 response, so the lifeguards set up warning signs for all of the beaches north and south of the area for one mile.
Imperial Beach Shark Sightings
Imperial Beach has 4 miles of sandy beaches, Imperial Beach Pier, the Tijuana River Mouth, and the Tijuana Estuary, both located in South Imperial Beach.
There is a dirty little secret here; honestly, it isn’t much of a mystery. The waters down in Imperial Beach are almost always closed because of the raw sewage from Tijuana.
July 28, 2007 #
- 11:00 pm- Jordan Springer and Chris Campbell surfed near Imperial Beach Pier 50 yards from shore in 6 to 8 feet of water. Jordon was paddling out when he saw something in the corner of his eye. All of a sudden, there was a shark on his surfboard. He hit the shark as hard as he could, and it disappeared back into the water. He was shaken up but not injured.
October 31, 2008
- The following account was given to Marcus at Surfline.com by Joey Bradley. He was surfing south of the Imperial Beach Pier in the La Boca Rio area near Encanto Street, 20 to 30 yards from shore. He reported seeing an 8-foot shark swimming next to a group of birds feeding on a school of fish 10 feet away from him.
June 27, 2008
- 6:00-7:00 pm- Jeremy Brower ran on the beach 3/4 mile south of Camp Surf when he came across a seal carcass. A mile down, he saw four more seal carcasses, all within 50 yards.
September 28, 2008
- Thadeau Martins was jogging South Imperial Beach near the Tijuana Slough and reported seeing two sea lion carcasses with bite marks. Just offshore of the area, numerous birds were in a feeding frenzy. He also noted that this is the second time seeing dead sea lions with bite marks in this location.
Why Are There So Many Great White Shark Sightings in San Diego?
After reading about the great white shark sightings in San Diego. What makes San Diego so unique?
According to shark researcher Nick Wegner of Scripps Institute of Oceanography, San Diego has the perfect shoreline that great white sharks have taken a liking to using as a nursery for newly born pups.
He believes that great white shark mothers drop their pups off on the coast of San Diego once giving birth. Calm temperate waters, an abundance of fish, and the presence of large marine mammals are a few things that make San Diego a perfect destination.
He added no parental care for great white sharks and that the young sharks are on their own to fend for themselves. Juvenile sharks only eat fish and do not start going after larger prey, like sea lions, until 10 feet in length.
The next question would be, where do they give birth? Nick stated that though no one has seen a great white shark give birth, he believes it must be somewhere close to Southern California because of the large amounts of juveniles seen here.
October 2020 Update!
The Shark Lab at California State Long Beach has reported that they have tagged 38 great white sharks this year, three times as many as last year!
Shark Lab’s director, Chris Lowe, states that the sharks usually leave the area and head South to Baja, California, when the water temperature drops below the mid-’60s. It has been noted that the sharks are still offshore, so maybe 2020 will be a year-round shark season. We shall see!
On October 1, lifeguards at Torrey Pines State Beach spotted twelve juvenile great white sharks near Flat Rock Beach. Witnesses saw the sharks swimming out of the surf and lineup. A Shark advisory was posted as a warning to beachgoers.
Why Do Great White Sharks Breach?
Did you happen to notice that many people reported seeing great white sharks breaching entirely out of the water?
Why do you think they do this?
Great white sharks use breaching as a hunting tactic used to ambush prey from underneath.
Here is an excellent example that I found if you would like to see an adult great white shark breaching from the Smithsonian- Photo Sequence of Great White Shark Hunting
But, as you can see from the sighting reports above, many breaching sharks were juveniles. So maybe instinctively, they are practicing? Or just having fun? I am not sure, but it does seem logical.
Another thing to consider is that breaching is also a way to eliminate parasites from their bodies. Dr. Chris Lowe of CSULB Shark Lab believes this may be the case.
Down below, I found a video of a great white shark breaching behind the surf line at Trestles-San Onofre State Beach in February 2020.
Would You Like to Swim with Sharks in San Diego?
Swimming with the sharks figuratively, not being knocked off like in a mafia movie.
As I mentioned above, several sharks hang out around the surf line. But did you realize that over a La Jolla Shores Beach, the leopard shark (Triakis semifasciata) comes close to shore to breed every year?
Did you also know that several shark diving companies out of San Diego offer great white shark cage diving tours to Guadalupe Island in Mexico?
Snorkeling with Leopard Sharks Tours
I found a few companies that offer shark tours. So far, I have yet to experience any of these exciting opportunities myself, but I plan to in the future. I did, a long time ago, snorkel with sharks at Marineland in Palos Verdes, CA. But I digress.
Take a look and see if you can picture yourself swimming with hundreds of leopard sharks.
Scuba San Diego Guided day and night dives and snorkeling adventure in the La Jolla Underwater Ecological Reserve.
Bike and Kayak Tours – Leopard Shark Encounter.
La Jolla Kayak– La Jolla Shores Snorkel Tour.
TropicalSnorkeling.com- Snorkeling with Leopard Sharks at La Jolla Shores Tour.
Offshore San Diego Shark Diving Tours
Several San Diego Sportfishing and Diving Fleet companies offer Great White Shark Cage Diving trips to Guadalupe Island in Mexico.
Located just 268 south of San Diego, Guadalupe Island provides some of the world’s best great white shark diving.
Here is where the huge sharks like to hang out! Guadalupe Island is believed to be a breeding ground, so most great whites seen here are mature adults. The average size of an adult male is 10 to 14 feet, while females are between 12 to 18 feet long. It is essential to mention that these sharks are long, wide, and girthy.
Also included are an offshore blue and mako shark cage diving excursion.
H&M Landing– offers Great White Shark Cage Diving on MV Horizon from August to November off Guadalupe Island, Mexico, at $3099/person.
H&M Landing also offers a Blue and Mako Shark one-day free diving with sharks off the coast of San Diego at $800/person, with the professional dive team at Waterhorse Charters.
SDSharkDiving.com– offers 5 to 16-day diving trips on the Nautilus Explorer from $2895 to $5595 per person. They also provide several other shark diving adventures from across the world.
SharkDiver.com- White Shark Isle of Guadalupe Cage Diving Tour for five days at $3095/person.
Islander Charters- Cage Diving with Great White Sharks, a five-day all-inclusive trip to Guadalupe Island, starting at $3195/ person for double occupancy and $3395 for single occupancy. Islander Charters boasts a 100% guarantee for shark sightings and a 100% safety record.
As a bonus, I found this fantastic news report which showcases what you can expect on one of these shark cage adventures.
Here is a video that I found that showcases what to expect on a Guadalupe Island shark cage diving adventure
# Update!- February 2023
Well, it turns out that the Mexican government has now banned shark cage diving at Guadalupe Island. The reasons given for such a move are blamed on unethical practices of tour companies, such as divers swimming outside of the cage, improper uses of bait and chum, as well as the discharge of pollutants.
As of now, I will keep the above information while crossing my fingers that something might change.
A Couple of Rare San Diego Shark Encounter Videos
While researching for this post, I found a few videos of rare shark encounters that have happened off the coast of San Diego County, and I would love to share them with you all!
Fisherman Spots Rare Megamouth Shark
Great White Shark Surprises Solitary Surfer
I added this video because it is one of my favorites! A lone surfer was at San Onofre’s Bluff Beach when he noticed a juvenile great white shark!
Many Large Sevengill Sharks Seen in La Jolla Cove
La Jolla Cove is THE place to snorkel and scuba dive in San Diego! What makes this area so unique is an underwater submarine canyon just outside of La Jolla Cove. It is not uncommon for an offshore species of shark to make its way here. If you recall, this is also where the first fatal shark attack in San Diego happened in 1959 and two more non-fatal attacks (see above).
Whale Shark Spotted off of San Diego!!!!
Hammerhead Shark Sighting off the coast of La Jolla
The MalibuArtist on YouTube
I found this excellent channel on YouTube and urge you to take a look! He is a drone operator who enjoys flying over the beaches of Southern California, looking for great white sharks.
How To See Small Sharks at the Beach
I want to give you a couple of suggestions for seeing small sharks the next time you are at the beach. Sharks such as the grey smoothhound, shovelnose guitarfish, and leopard shark can be found in the shallow waters close to shore and the many lagoons in San Diego. The trick is being able to spot them.
Have you ever gone to the beach at night? Well, the next time, bring a flashlight!
By shining the light into the waves, you can see the sharks’ eyes as they reflect the light and shine like glowing balls in the waves. Try it next time, and you will be surprised by how many you will see.
Another thing you can do is go to a lagoon during high tide. If possible, find a comfortable spot right next to the inlet. Next, shine the light into the water. Many little sharks and fish swim in and out of the lagoon.
The photo I provided above was taken inside the Shark Encounter at SeaWorld. As you can see, this sand tiger shark’s (Carcharias taurus) eyes reflect the light from the camera flash.
Shark Tips Before You Enter the Water Next Time
Before I leave you, I wanted to end with a few tips on accessing your environment the next time you enter the ocean.
- Please stay clear of piers, as it is dangerous because of all the fishing lines, and many anglers will throw fish guts into the water while cleaning their fish.
- Avoid swimming near anglers fishing in the surf, spearfishing, or fishing boats outside the surf line.
- Be cautious if you see seals/seal lions in the water, as they are a favorite treat for adult great white sharks.
- Realize that if the water is flat and calm, there is a higher chance of encountering a shark closer to shore. While on the other hand, surfers have a greater chance of meeting a shark when the waves are larger, as the shark will stay well out of the surf zone.
- Do not swim at night, as sharks like to come closer to shore searching for food.
- Keep away from murky water, as sharks can not see very well and might confuse you with prey.
- Professor Nathan Hart from the University of Western Australia discovered that they only have one photoreceptor in the retina by examining dead sharks. Because of this, they see it as monochromatic, so Hart theorizes that it is not the actual color that attacks the shark but the contrast of the color to the water that significantly attracts the sharks. He advises wearing neutral ocean colors like blue or green and avoiding black wetsuits and bright-colored swimwear.
- Leave the water immediately if you see fish jumping out of the water!
- Never molest any shark, regardless of its size and demeanor
- If a shark is sighted, swim back to shore as smoothly as possible. You do not want to attract attention to yourself.
Thank you again for stopping by! I am going to San Onofre State Beach/ Old Man’s Beach tomorrow to celebrate returning to work this weekend. Hopefully, I will have a bunch of shark sightings to write about!
Until next time!
I have always had a deep-seated passion for the Ocean Environment which ultimately led me to receive a degree in Marine Biology. Living in the San Diego area for over 30 years, I have extensively explored the 70 miles of San Diego’s coastline, and I am here to share! Please use my website to your advantage and have a look around at all the wonders that the beaches of San Diego can offer you!