adventures in nature

Pt Reyes National Seashore pt 2 – shark attack mystery!

WARNING – this blog has some pictures that might be disturbing to some viewers. Death is part of the natural world. But the pictures are intriguing, so read on!

After a morning of tracking on the land of the elk, we headed south to another area to check out some of the beaches. Laying on the beach was a not-long-dead female elephant seal that appeared to have been killed by a shark. I’m guessing great white shark based on the size of bites on this large seal, and because there are a lot of them along this coast, an area know as “the red triangle” due to its density of great whites. In the winter time this is part of their breeding grounds. Also, the sign at the entrance to the beach indicating that they were baiting and tagging great whites in the area during Dec and Jan. NOT my first choice for surfing.

shark warning sign point reyes national seashore

shark warning sign posted at beach trailhead / Pt Reyes National Seashore Jan 2012

It was pretty intense to see – the blood had not yet fully coagulated and there was no smell from the carcass. There were a fair number of gull tracks around it and gulls were actively feeding on the carcass, but not a lot of tracks to indicate it had been there for more than a day. I’m thinking that it washed up on the last high tide, as it was resting by the last high tide mark – we were there around 3p and it appears last high tide was in the morning around 6:30a. None of the tracks were around it that one would expect from the night shift (coyotes, etc).

Tide prediction info for Pt Reyes:

01/29/2011 Sat 12:32AM LST 3.0 L 06:31AM LST 6.2 H 02:03PM LST -0.3 L 08:56PM LST 4.5 H

My boots are a size 10 1/2, one of which I placed in the frame for scale. You can see on the photos that the seal appears to have multiple LARGE bite marks that look very shark-like on its body. One of the snaps you can see shredding on the skin like – well, shark teeth had raked through it! The one that was easily measurable looked like at least a 14″ bite, some on the belly looked like they could have been bigger.

deceased female elephant seal / Pt Reyes National Seashore Jan 2012

female elephant seal - with shark bites? / Pt Reyes National Seashore Jan 2012

apparent shark bite on female elephant seal / Pt Reyes National Seashore Jan 2012

apparent shark bite on female elephant seal #1 / Pt Reyes National Seashore Jan 2012

apparent shark bite on female elephant seal / Pt Reyes National Seashore Jan 2012

apparent shark bite on female elephant seal #2 / Pt Reyes National Seashore Jan 2012

apparent shark bite on female elephant seal / Pt Reyes National Seashore Jan 2012

apparent shark bite on female elephant seal / Pt Reyes National Seashore Jan 2012

One mystery was that its skull was missing. It’s head was still there, as if a hood made of skin, but no skull. Also, it’s curious that more of it wasn’t eaten while it was in the ocean. Could other elephant seals have made an attempt at defending it? Also, there were no vultures feeding on it, though they were around in the sky in the general area. Same with ravens. There didn’t seem to be any vulture tracks around it, or raven tracks nearby (though perhaps they were obliterated by gull tracks). Why weren’t they feeding? Had they already had their fill? Was it too fresh that they didn’t smell it yet due to slight preservation from salt water? Tainted? Interesting questions.

I also wonder if the four surfers that we saw leaving the beach area had read the sign about great whites, or seen the shark-bite-ridden carcass. Perhaps there were five surfers when they first arrived …

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