Relatives mourn victim of Christmas Eve shark attack in California

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Relatives of a surfer killed by a shark off the coast of California are in shock at his death as the grisly attack sends shockwaves throughout the surfing community.

Tomas Butterfield, 42, of Sacramento, died on Christmas Eve in what would be the first fatal great white shark attack in San Luis Obispo County in 18 years, the Los Angeles Times reported.

“It’s a terrible loss, at 42, as he puts his things together and starts doing something on his own,” Butterfield’s uncle Grant told the newspaper.

Butterfield, whose death appears to be the only fatal shark attack in the United States in 2021, was visiting his mother in Morro Bay for the holidays and drove to Morro Strand State Beach on his own, his uncle said.

A surfer spotted Butterfield’s board “sort of in the water” near a popular surf spot known as The Pit and paddled up to it, the Morro Bay harbor manager said, Eric Endersby, at The Times.

The woman saw a leash attached to the board and “pulled on it” before realizing a body was connected to it, Endersby said. She then grabbed Butterfield by his swim fins and brought him back to the beach from the water up to his chest, he said.

A surfer spotted Tomas Butterfield’s board and realized that a body was still connected to it.
David Middlecamp / La Tribune de San Luis Obispo via AP

Up to 30 other people were nearby, but it is not known if anyone saw the deadly attack, which shut off waters near Morro Strand for 24 hours. Butterfield’s death is still under investigation, The Times reported.

The population of great whites off central California has increased in recent years, but human encounters remain extremely rare, shark experts told the newspaper.

“You have a better chance of winning the lottery,” said Christopher Lowe, professor of marine biology and director of the Shark Lab at Cal State Long Beach.

Great whites – which reach lengths of 20 feet and weigh 3,000 pounds – have been spotted as far north as the Gulf of Alaska and south near the equator, but central California has become their “home.” main “due to the abundance of elephant seals and sea lions,” Lowe said.

“I really don’t think people need to be afraid, but they need to exercise good judgment,” he told the newspaper. “The sharks are coming back. There are more of them there. The ocean is their home, and we are guests in their home, but sometimes accidents happen.

A total of 199 documented shark encounters were recorded by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife between the 1950s and August 2021 – including 14 deaths, the Times reported.

Tomas Butterfield.
Tomas Butterfield was passionate about fishing.
Courtesy of Grant Butterfield

Just two days before the Butterfield attack, two surfers were chased by a shark at North Salmon Creek Beach in Sonoma County, about 300 miles to the north. The last fatal shark attack in San Luis Obispo County was in August 2003, Endersby said.

Butterfield’s death in Morro Bay, about 200 miles north of Los Angeles, kept surfers away from the waters for days, a surf shop owner told The Times.

“There have been a lot of surfers who have come into the store saying they are not ready,” said Mike Jones of Azhiaziam.

Jones, 48, usually goes surfing twice a week but hadn’t been back in the water since Butterfield’s death and even refused to rent surfboards to customers for days, he said. he declares.

“I tell them, with the shark attack, we’re going to leave the water clear for a few days,” Jones told The Times.

A sign in a parking lot announces the closure of a beach.
The fatal attack closed the waters near Morro Strand for 24 hours.
David Middlecamp / La Tribune de San Luis Obispo via AP

Butterfield, meanwhile, worked with his father in a medical equipment repair company and was avid fishing and surfing, his uncle said.

Grant Butterfield said Tomas’ father and brother were “quite broken” by his untimely demise. He also congratulated the woman who dragged her nephew’s body out of the water.

“She doesn’t know it, but she’s obviously family now,” Grant Butterfield said. “The possibility that his board could have gone further out to sea and that he would be gone forever and we wouldn’t have known. “


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