Unusually Aggressive Shark Chases Surfers off California Coast Days Before Fatal Attack

An unusually aggressive shark pursued two surfers off the coast of California just days before a fatal attack took place in the region.

Timothy Reck was surfing off North Salmon Creek Beach when the shark started chasing him and a fellow surfer into the shallows, The Press Democrat reports. "We were terrified because it was not backing off," he told the newspaper. The shark, he said, clamped onto the leash of one of their surfboards.

A third surfer, Nate Buck, told The Press Democrat he spotted a shark just half an hour after Reck's encounter. He said he felt a "strong shark intuition" when he was bobbing about 100 yards from the shore. It was then he saw a 10-12 foot great white shark just six feet from him.

"It felt like I could've leaned over and almost touched it," he said. He returned to shore and told other surfers what he had seen.

Reck said other surfers have been waiting before they head back into the water along this stretch of coast.

John Ugoretz, pelagic fisheries manager for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, told The Press Democrat the shark that chased Reck was probably a juvenile that was learning to feed. Great white attacks on humans are very rare and tend to be a result of young sharks mistaking surfers and swimmers for seals or sea lions.

In research published in October, scientists developed a "sharks eye-view" to show what these predators see when swimmers, surfers and seals are swimming above. Their findings showed remarkable similarities between the three, with the authors concluding attacks on people are likely the result of mistaken identity.

Reck and Buck's encounters took place just days before a fatal shark attack 300 miles south. Tomas Butterfield, 42, was attacked on Christmas Eve off Morro Bay while bodyboarding. His board was spotted by another surfer and he was pronounced dead at the scene.

According to the Los Angeles Times, an official at Morro Bay harbor said the attack probably involved a great white shark.

There is a huge population of great whites off the coast of California. In an interview with Newsweek earlier this year, shark researchers Michael Domeier and Nicole Nasby Lucas said they have just returned from an expedition to tag individuals living in the region.

"Our new site off California is, in my opinion, the most important great white shark research site in the northeastern Pacific," Domeier said. "Why? It's quite simple: no one knew this site even existed just a few years ago. And there are a lot of sharks there."

great white shark
Stock photo of a great white shark. A great white shark is believed to have been involved in a fatal attack off the coast of California on Christmas Eve. Getty Images