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TOP SECRET ANIMAL ATTACK FILES
Shark atttacks surfer
Peter Fimrite, Kelly St. John, Michael Cabanatuan, Chronicle Staff Writers
A 12- to 14-foot shark bolted out of the water near Stinson Beach on Friday afternoon and clenched a screaming surfer in its razor-sharp jaws as fellow surfers watched in disbelief.
The attack, which prompted National Park Service officials to bar anyone from entering the water at Stinson Beach for five days, occurred inside the so- called Red Triangle -- the stretch of Northern California coast where more shark attacks have taken place than anywhere else in the world.
Lee Fontan, 24, a Bolinas landscaper and lifelong surfer, needed 100 stitches to close four bite wounds after Friday's attack.
"We were out there kidding around, talking, waiting for the next wave. Then all of a sudden we heard a scream," said John Gilbert, 33, an avid surfer who lives in Stinson Beach and owns the town's Parkside Cafe. "I looked over and this guy was about three or four feet out of the water in the shark's mouth. You could see its teeth, its gums. Its eyes were shut. Its gills were wide open, like shutters. The whole dorsal fin on its back was out of the water."
When the shark crashed back into the ocean, it released the surfer and disappeared. Fontan was left clinging dearly to his board. A dozen surfers pulled him to shore, then tended to his wounds -- including an 8-inch gash in his left thigh and three tooth holes below his ribs.
"You could see all the way to the bone," said Paul Fontan, the surfer's father, who was on his way to the beach when the attack happened. "It made me sick."
Paramedics from the Stinson Beach Fire Department arrived soon after the attack was reported at 2:17 p.m., followed by National Park Service lifeguards,
Marin County Fire Department ambulance crews, the Marin County Sheriff's Department and security officers from the nearby Seadrift residential development.
Fontan was taken by helicopter to Eden Hospital in Castro Valley, where he underwent 90 minutes of surgery to repair skin and deep tissue wounds to his left leg and left shoulder and arm.
Dr. Scott Snyder, a trauma surgeon, said that Fontan remained in critical condition but that his injuries were not life-threatening. He said he found no whole teeth inside the wounds but removed some white matter that will be tested.
Fontan was alert and in good spirits, even joking with hospital workers, Snyder said, recounting the surfer's response when he asked what the shark looked like.
"He said it was a large white shark with large white teeth," Snyder said.
The attack took place as a group of 12 to 15 surfers sat on their boards about 50 yards offshore from the Seadrift residential enclave, near the channel between Stinson Beach from Bolinas Lagoon.
The surfers were enjoying a south swell, breaking right toward Bolinas Beach, making for excellent surfing. Fontan, who had been riding the waves for a couple of hours, was about 10 feet farther out to sea than anyone else, Gilbert said.
The attack, Gilbert said, was surreal in its swiftness, more unbelievable than horrifying.
"You see sharks on TV, where seals are attacked," he said. "It was just like that, straight up like a missile. The shark hit him and launched him out of the water."
Witnesses said the shark thrashed wildly as it clamped down. But the surfer,
described by relatives as athletic and muscular, fought back, striking the shark soundly at least once on the snout, according to witnesses.
The shark left a huge arching bite mark -- about 13 inches wide -- in Fontan's 6-foot yellow surfboard. On the bottom of the board, Fontan had affixed a locally popular "no sharks" decal depicting an open-jawed shark beneath a circle and a slash.
"Obviously, the sticker didn't work," said his father. "Or maybe it made him mad."
LOOKING FOR A SEAL
Most likely, the shark mistook Fontan, who was wearing a wetsuit, for a seal or sea lion, said John McCosker, one of the world's foremost shark experts and a senior scientist at the California Academy of Sciences, in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. McCosker said that the attack sounded like the work of a great white shark but that he would have to talk to witnesses and doctors before he could make that determination.
If it was a great white -- and all the perpetrators in attacks off the Northern California coast have been great whites -- it would be the 13th such attack since 1952 in Marin County and the 43rd in the Red Triangle, which stretches from southern Monterey County to the Farallon Islands to Tomales Bay.
Only seven of the 79 attacks off California between 1950 and 1998 were fatal.
The zone has the highest concentration of shark attacks in the world, McCosker said, because of its large seal and sea lion populations and the large number of beachgoers, boaters and anglers.
"It surprises me there are not more (attacks)," he said. "I would not be surprised to know that there are sharks swimming along Stinson Beach all summer long."
The last Bay Area shark attack occurred in August 1998, when Jonathan Kathrein of Lucas Valley, on the north edge of San Rafael, was bitten while boogie-boarding at the southern end of Stinson Beach.
On Friday, Kathrein was skim boarding at Rodeo Beach, near Stinson but was home by the time he heard about the latest attack.
"I was hoping that no one would have to go through it again," Kathrein said.
It took him a year to recover from the bite, which extended from his right knee to his hip, and he still does not have full power in that leg.
"I'd like to be able to surf more, but it's been harder to get into the water," Kathrein, now 20, said. "I've realized the reality of sharks in the area. It's pretty serious."
But the 16 surfers riding the waves at sunset near the scene of the attack, outside park boundaries, had no such qualms.
"Denial is a very good thing," said one surfer who didn't want to give her name. "Sharks are always here, but the waves aren't."
©2002 San Francisco Chronicle
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