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Friday, July 10, 2015

When Sharks Appear In The Open Water

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

Night Train Swimmer Simon Dominguez is scheduled to swim out from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Farallon Islands. We asked skipper Vito Bialla about his July 27th attempt and the sharks that may be lurking around.

With the water relatively warm, 61.4°F at the Farallon Islands and 64°F in San Francisco Bay, there are plenty of sharks in the area which is very early based on historical data.

"They spotted 15 great white sharks last week right off Santa Cruz," reported Bialla. "I’m going out on Sunday to take a good look for myself since we have two solo swims planned in the next month. Being at the Islands is so magical - it is like talking to the devil and being in heaven at the same time."

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: If humans sight more sharks at the surface of the water, does this necessarily mean there are more sharks in the area than normal?
Vita Bialla: No, they primarily hunt from below 100 feet usually and attack seals swimming straight up at a very fast speed. When they come to the surface, it is because there is something to see.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Aren't the sharks always there - at least some of them - whether or not they are visible by humans?
Vita Bialla: Yes, some of the bigger older ones always live there but only two or three with a couple of the Great Whites off Point Reyes as well.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Even if sharks are visible and present - but swimming deeply and invisible - does that necessarily mean there will be a shark attack?
Vita Bialla: Sharks only attack swimmers by mistaken identity. If you are a shark and look up and he thinks he sees a seal, then he will charge it bite it and then spit you out. If you wear a wetsuit and or wear fins or paddle on a surf board, you look like bait. If they are on the surface, they will cruise around in circles check you out and usually leave. Humans aren’t part of the food chain.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Although there have been shark encounters near the shore near Santa Cruz and elsewhere, how many humans have been attacked mid-channel or near the islands?
Vita Bialla: The only shark attack on record was in 1959 right outside the Golden Gate at Baker beach. They found the swimmer's arm with a confirmed Great White Shark's tooth stuck in his bone.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: If or when a shark is seen near a swimmer, whose choice is it to get out: the pilot, the crew or the swimmer? Is the swimmer informed of an approaching shark or are they just pulled from the water? How is the swimmer informed (e.g., three short whistle blasts)?
Vita Bialla: Captain is always in charge. I make the call if you are on my boat. I honk the horn three times. Swimmer comes over, gets out as I stop the boat. I say you now have ten minutes to think about the situation. After ten minutes your swim is over. I will encourage the swimmer to take up golf at that point. There is no real need to push the envelope.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Of all the Night Train Swimmers, I think many of the swimmers would immediately jump in to help a swimmer in need, but are there protocols to dictate how or who would be allowed to enter the water to help a swimmer in need?
Vita Bialla: If a person needs to be pulled, we send a swimmer in to go look in their eyes, talk to them and give us a thumbs up or down. If a person is attacked by a shark, it will be all hands on deck and we jump in as fast as we can. Myself and couple others always dress that way - goggles within reach, swimsuit usually on. The platform lowered life ring in tow as we jump overboard. Every second counts mind you. Also, the boat can be faster than a swimmer trying to get to an injured person. I can turn SEQUEL on a dime and be literally a couple feet away from a swimmer in seconds. We don’t let them swim far from the boat, but outside the wake since we don’t allow drafting.

Copyright © 2015 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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