Paddleboarders Experience Close Encounter With Great White Shark Off California Beach

Two paddleboarders reported a close encounter with a mature great white shark off the California coastline last week, as the massive animal swam in "formation" with them, following the pair to shore.

Kelly Smith and Michelle Speckler, both of Santa Barbara, were paddleboarding off Goleta Beach on Friday when they spotted a pod of dolphins. According to the women, they were roughly three quarters of a mile from shore, and the water was calm. As the pair turned after the dolphin pod, Smith got out ahead of Speckler, as she is a stronger paddler. When she pulled away, Speckler sensed another presence nearby, as KEYT reported.

"It was under my board and it moved back and forth on either side. It was truly terrifying."
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Speckler suddenly found herself paddleboarding above a mature female great white shark, and for a moment, she was alone with the massive animal. After just a few minutes, Smith returned to her side, despite having witnessed the shark's fin breaking the surface. Smith was uniquely qualified to observe the great white, as she is an editor for Discovery's Shark Week.

Despite the fact that her board measured just over 11 feet, Smith noted that the great white shark was larger, making it at least 12-feet-long. A lack of male genitalia (known as claspers) told Smith that the great white shark was a female.
"She did a behavior where she rolled over which allows her eye to look up and determine what she is looking at. She was curious about us. I looked her in the eye and was able to evaluate it was a female. She didn't have claspers."
Wary of the shark's presence, the pair turned toward shore, even though the animal made no move to threaten them. Instead, they quickly found themselves paddling alongside the female great white shark.

"We were in formation," Smith recalled. "Michelle and I were together and the shark was between our boards about 12 inches behind us. She wasn't wiggling. It felt like we were paddling together. Just me and Michelle and our great white girlfriend."

The shark eventually turned back to sea when the women reached a point roughly 100 yards from shore. As Smith observed, the great white acted quite the opposite of the way her species is often portrayed, displaying a curiosity at odds with their reputation as brutal predators.
"The shark was absolutely beautiful. Not all sharks are out to get you. This shark was just curious. She was every bit as curious about us as we were about her."
Sharks are hardly uncommon in the region at this time of the year, as KTLA reports, and juvenile great whites have been making headlines off California all year. After the women reported their encounter, lifeguards posted signs warning other beachgoers of the presence of a great white shark.

[Photo by Terry Goss via Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0]