Saturday, October 21, 2006

Carnage footage of Great White sharks feeding on elephant seal

BIRDS WERE DIVING a quarter-mile from the Farallones, and the Salty Lady headed for the commotion.

It wasn't long before the charter boat crew spotted a deep red slick widening in the water.
Then the head of a frantic 400-pound elephant seal popped to the surface, its tail twirling like a propeller as it churned the water wildly.

Blood poured from a gaping 3-foot hole in the seal's hide, with 3-inch-thick folds of white blubber split open to reveal the stricken creature's internal organs.

A moment later, a 16-foot great white zoomed in. Then a smaller shark arrived.
Welcome to lunch at the Farallones.

The white sharks devoured the seal within 16 minutes, their meal marked by a widening circle of blood and blubber oil on

Naturalist David Wimpfheimer of Inverness, who leads birding, whale watching and other excursions as part of his business, photographed this great white shark attack of a seal near the Farallone Islands. (copyright David Wimpfheimer ( calm water on a crystal-clear day.

"It was spectacular," said Richard Birnbaum of Larkspur, who watched in amazement as the drama erupted Monday. "It was absolutely awesome."

The seal came alongside the boat "still alive, looking up at us, it's tail flipping a mile a minute. You could see a hole in it 3 feet wide, through the blubber. You could see its intestines.

"Within five minutes, the shark comes back and hits it again."

Salty Lady skipper Roger Thomas, an old salt who
has seen scores of shark attacks in 40 years at the helm, called it the most spectacular of his career.

He said the day was a "million-to-one shot."

That's because his boat was chartered by a BBC television documentary crew that recorded the carnage for a series tentatively called "Wild in California."

The British television crew had a day to devote to a hunt for a great white at the Farallones - and scored.

"It was really phenomenal," Thomas said. "I've seen lots of good shark attacks, but this one was just awesome.

"That seal was half alive, a couple feet from the boat, wiggling. The shark comes up and takes a hunk out of it. Then another shark comes up.

"What are the odds of having that happen for a TV crew that is out for just a day, trying to film a great white shark attack?"

The filmmakers, with two cameras blazing on board, and another on the main Farallon island, recorded it all.

The producer left the boat shaking her head in disbelief.

"We came back incredibly exhilarated," said BBC producer Hayley Smith. "All we had was one day, and we had no idea we'd get any footage that spectacular."

Also aboard the Salty Lady was noted naturalist David Wimpfheimer of Inverness, who leads birding, whale watching and other excursions as part of his business at As the attack unfolded, he grabbed a digital camera and took a striking series of photographs.
"We saw one shark, then a second one came in, and they were eating big chunks of meat," he said. "The seal has these big black eyes looking out at you, and you're kind of sad the animal is dying.

"At the same time it's exciting because you are seeing a predator doing its thing."
IJ reporter Nels Johnson's Fish Wrap column appears Fridays in the IJ's sports section.


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