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The ocean is a beautiful place—it’s also wild and sometimes scary.

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Celebration of life gathering for Lisa Amorao

Swimmers, surfers, paddle-boarders and an outrigger crew gathered just off Lovers Point on Sunday, June 12, to celebrate the life of Lisa Amorao. The Monterey Fire Boat also attended (viewable in the back).

Sara Rubin here, concerned about a swimmer who was bitten by a shark this morning at Lovers Point and is being treated at Natividad Medical Center in Salinas. It’s a dark disruption on an otherwise beautiful summer day, the kind of day when the ocean beckons. 

Pacific Grove Police report that the swimmer was roughly 150 feet offshore when a shark bit him at about 10:30am. Witnesses at the beach reacted quickly, and paddled out to rescue the swimmer, who was already back to shore when first responders arrived at the scene. Police are following State Parks protocol and closed beach access from Lovers Point to Sea Palm for 48 hours; they are using drones to monitor the area and see what they can determine about shark activity and may extend that closure. So far there’s been no subsequent shark sighting. 

There are also no sharks currently pinging at the buoy just off Hopkins Marine Station, which means the shark involved today likely is not tagged. Given that large sharks are usually present in this area in late summer to early fall, Dr. Barbara Block, who studies sharks at Hopkins, says this shark may have been a subadult—shark lingo for teenager—going through a transition from eating mostly fish to eating marine mammals. Subadults are in the area year-round. “Clearly this is a shark that mistook the swimmer for potentially a marine mammal,” Block says. 

“It’s unusual in Pacific Grove to have an interaction, it’s a very rare event,” she adds. What is perhaps most unusual: warm weather, bringing more swimmers to the water than normal. 

Swimming and other forms of water recreation in Monterey Bay always come with a risk. Sharks are always there, and people—including me—who want to be in the water accept a certain degree of risk. 

Sometimes the risk is not as dramatic as a shark bite, even if that’s what we think about most. The ocean is rough, unpredictable and cold, and much of the coastline is rocky. There are a lot of hazards here other than giant predators. The local swimming community was reminded of this just last month when an experienced ocean swimmer, Lisa Amorao, drowned on a swim near Hopkins on May 29. In her case, another swimmer made a rescue effort and an anonymous passerby on the Rec Trail also jumped in the water to try to save her. First responders got her out of the water, but it was too late. Amorao was 44, fit, and a strong swimmer. Hypothermia likely contributed to her death, on a day the water was especially cold.

At a memorial for Amorao, people spoke about her love for the ocean and the unparalleled magic that comes from immersion. It transports you to another world and reveals a layer of beauty that’s not visible from the surface. She was truly passionate about ocean swimming, and many remembered her as a mermaid.

Amorao swam with an ocean swimming group called the Kelp Krawlers (I am also a member), a group that Erica Fox co-founded in 2005. She’s been swimming consistently since, and just yesterday swam right where today’s shark-human encounter was. Fox thinks less about sharks than squirrels, which she dodges regularly on her bike. “I feel more vulnerable on a bike than I do in the ocean,” she says. 

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And she’ll likely be back in the ocean in that same area soon, once the beaches open back up. If we want to play in a playground that is home to wild animals, we assume some risk every time we enter. 

(Fox also objects to the phrasing in a PGPD press release—and the broader public—calling it a shark “attack.” She’d prefer shark “incident” or shark “bite,” since the shark isn’t out there trying to take down a human. This is not Jaws.)

Meanwhile, Block hopes to learn more about subadult and juvenile sharks, which she and her team are learning spend extensive time in this area. Until about five years ago, most research focused on adults. 

And for people who want to get in the water, she urges them to think of it in context: “We live in a wild place, and we have to be respectful; we have this remarkable Monterey Bay that’s a forage zone for a variety of animals from whales to sharks to tuna,” Block says. “As we utilize the region, we need to be aware of where we’re swimming, and be aware of potential seal colonies that might be zones of foraging.”

We have always shared the ocean and other wild places with wild animals, and will continue to. Stay safe out there. Meanwhile, I am hoping for a speedy recovery for the person who was bitten today.

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Sara Rubin loves long public meetings, red pens and reading (on newsprint). She has been editor of the Monterey County Weekly since 2016, and has been on staff since 2010.

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