California whale-watchers enjoy rare encounter with great white shark

Passengers aboard the Dana Pride on Tuesday evening were enjoying an whale-watching epic adventure, having seen a blue whale mother and calf, and then a third blue whale off Dana Point, Calif. But it was when Capt. Todd Mansur had begun to move in the hope of locating dolphins that a truly rare sighting was made: that of a great white shark.

Even more unusual was that the shark, a juvenile or sub-adult measuring at least 10 feet, had its fin out of the water and was approaching the boat, from straight off the bow. It even briefly rode the bow wake, like a dolphin.

“At first it was in the glare and I thought it could be a swordfish or a marlin,” said Mansur, who works for Dana Wharf Whale Watching and has been a captain for 25 years. “As soon as I saw what it was I got on the P.A. and announced that we have a great white shark.”

Mansur said he was 100% sure it was a white shark. Two white shark experts asked to review the video would not make a positive identification –one said he could not rule out a mako shark — but agreed that it resembled a white shark.

That seems most likely. Though white sharks are rarely encountered off Southern California, juvenile white sharks do utilize coastal waters as a feeding ground. They prey on fish, rays and smaller sharks before they reach about 12 feet, then migrate offshore and to the north to prey on seals and sealions.

Mansur was able to turn the boat away from the glare long enough for his passengers to enjoy a clean look, and for him to videotape part of the encounter from the wheelhouse with his cellphone. This was about 1.5 miles off San Clemente, at a depth of 120 feet.

The captain said he has seen only eight white sharks in all his years as a local skipper and big-game angler, and four were near offshore seamounts. Two others were pointed out by airplane pilots.

“It’s very rare to see them, and even rarer to see one finning,” he said. “They hardly ever put their fins up like that. This thing was coming right at us at [a position of] 12 o’clock. It was like a game of chicken.”