The warning signs posted around Pleasure Point in Santa Cruz on Thursday were ominous. They detailed three great white shark encounters that occurred on nearby beaches popular among surfers.
A kayaker was bumped by a large shark and captured GoPro images on Wednesday, stated the “Public Notice” signs, which boasted California State Parks logos.
A stand-up paddler escaped injury but his board was bitten by a 15-foot great white, and a fisherman witnessed a huge shark feeding on a whale carcass.
Was there a lone rogue great white lingering just off the Central California coastal city? This is, after all, known great white shark habitat. Was there a genuine danger for beachgoers where the encounters occurred: Capitola Beach, Privates, and Rockview?
“Due to the highly aggressive nature of these encounters,” the signs cautioned, “it is strongly advised to stay out of the water for 48 hours…”
The truth, it turned out, is that there was no present danger. The signs were bogus.
The scare was manufactured, it seems, by surfers who wanted to scare other surfers out of the lineups so they could enjoy more waves to themselves, in advance of a big swell that was expected to arrive Friday.
The giveaway was in the signs’ wording. The fliers cautioned people to stay out of the water for 48 hours … “Or surf Cowells instead.”
Cowells is a spot on Santa Cruz’s west side. Pleasure Point is on the east side. Surfers from each side are rivals.
While it may have seemed like a brilliant plan, it did not work very well. The lineups at all area beaches were crowded on Thursday, as surfers either realized the signs were a hoax, or they simply didn’t care.
But the signs generated some manner of chaos.
KSBW wrote that when it telephoned park rangers, police, and fire stations to learn more about the dangerous shark, “everyone who answered the phone was confused, and quickly became suspicious that the shark attacks were entirely made up.”
State Parks Public Safety Superintendent Mike McMenamy told the Santa Cruz Sentinel: “It definitely is a hoax, likely to clear the lineup for the south swell that’s coming. This may be something that someone made from home.”
Authorities are investigating for possible copyright infringement because State Parks logos were used on the fliers.
But it turns out not all that was mentioned on the fliers was fiction. A gray whale carcass was, in fact, spotted Wednesday evening and Thursday morning, about 100 yards offshore, and there might have been a large shark dining on its flesh.
Sgt. Joe Clarke of the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office told the Sentinel: “I saw the whale and something was pushing it around. Something was eating it.”
This prompted a genuine warning from David Ebert, director of the Pacific Shark Research Center at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories.
“If you’re surfing, swimming or kayaking, I’d stay back,” he said.