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SoCal Photographer Captures Rare Image of ‘Flying’ Shark – NBC 7 San Diego

The singular shot came about after an Orange County photog headed to the world-famous break off San Onofre to take some photographs of the surf and surfers.

A once-in-a-lifetime image shot off the coast of north San Dego County has made waves online and on social media for its stunning backdrop that even caught the artist by surprise.

Rancho Mission Viejo photographer Jordan Anast was in the right place at the right time last Saturday when a great white shark breached just behind surfer Tyler Warren.

“I didn’t see it happen until it came out,” Anast recalled of the remarkable moment. “And I’m like, ‘What was that?’ And I thought it was a really, really big dolphin. As I went back and I looked at it, I noticed that it wasn’t.”

How the Photo Was Shot

The singular shot came about after Anast headed to the world-famous break off San Onofre to take some photographs of the surf and surfers and just happened to show up during the annual San Onofre Surfing Club contest. He began snapping shots of the action. It was only aftward that he realized he had shot something extraordinary.

“All of a sudden, I see this flash, and I thought it was a dolphin because I’ve captured dolphins [spinning] and things like that,” Anast told NBC 7, “but as I checked back on my camera on the actual images, I noticed that it was actually a great white by the shape of the fins.”

Anast’s Canon R5 and a 400mm f/2.8 lens captured the three-second breach in six frames.

“I think I was just in the right place at the right time — and lucky,” the photographer said.

Anast has been a photographer for about 20 years and taken at least 2 million images during his lifetime. He enjoys photographing sports and action shots, and has images of dolphins and sea lions jumping out the way of surfers, but he believes this is the first time he’s digitally captured a shark.

“I just think this is like a one-in-a-million shot,” he said.

As for the surfer who was unaware of the massive beast behind him? Anast said he briefly spoke with Warren, who requested a copy of the viral image.

“I think he thinks it’s cool and everything,” Anast said.

Fishermen came across the very large sharks in open water last — the species was first discovered in 1976, the year AFTER “Jaws” came out.

Why Would a Shark Breach?

Chris Lowe, who is a professor of marine biology and the director of the California State University Long Beach Shark Lab, told NBC 7 that it’s not uncommon for great whites to breach.

“What’s amazing is that people think it’s rare, but it’s not,” Lowe said. “We actually see it quite a bit. In fact, during the summer where we have juvenile white shark aggregations, we might see a couple individuals jump within an hour of each other. So, we don’t really know why they do it, though.”

While researchers are still trying to figure out why great white sharks breach, Lowe said he has three hypotheses on why these incredible creatures make the leap:

  • Sharks may or may not be chasing food near the surface:
    “Because they’re swimming so fast, it causes them to launch out of the water. So, using a drone, we’ve actually seen sharks breach before. And what’s really interesting is from the drone, we don’t see them jumping with food around. We just see them jump.”
  • Sharks could be jumping because they have parasites on their back:
    “There are little crustaceans that have little claws — and they can move around their skin — that are probably itchy … and when we see sharks jump, they often land on their sides or on their back, and that might be a strategy to dislodge those hitchhikers.”
  • Sharks simply could be jumping just for fun:
    “That skill of learning how to breach or ambush may be something that they practice as a juvenile that they might use as an adult. So, a lot of predators we know will practice, exhibiting predatory behaviors, and they’ll do it in the form of play. So, it’s one of my favorite hypotheses.”

PB native Nico Gibbons and a couple fishing buddies were aboard about 100 yards off La Jolla Cove on the Winnegabo, their Cuddy Cabin, when they spotted a great white shark nearly as long as their boat.

Sharks: Stealthy and Sneaky Swimmers

Occasionally, Lowe’s team at CSULB has flown drones over the ocean and has recorded great whites leaping from the water. Oftentimes, these large marine beasts go undetected by surfers.

“What’s really interesting is, you don’t see the surfers turn like they might have missed it,” Lowe said. “In other words, they jump out of the corner of their eye. They’ll see something splash, and they probably think it’s a dolphin. So quite often, we’ll have a surfer say, ‘Oh, you know, something big splashed near me, but I just thought it was a dolphin.’ It’s very possible that that was a juvenile white shark jumping.”

Surfers shouldn’t be too spooked, though, because, based on what Lowe and his team have observed, sharks don’t seem fazed by or particularly interested in humans.

“So we know they’re there, but they don’t seem to be bothering people,” Lowe said. “In fact, much of our video indicates that they ignore people. They treat humans like flotsam, just the stuff that’s floating on the surface that doesn’t seem to pose a threat to them. So, therefore they ignore people.”

Shark experts said in a recent report that juvenile great whites have relocated from Santa Monica Bay and Will Rogers Beach to Torrey Pines, Solana Beach and Carpinteria.

A Warning From a Biologist

With it being fall, however, and with adult white sharks returning from their open ocean migration around this time of year, Lowe encourages surfers and swimmers to be mindful of sharks in the water — just in case.

“People should always be aware that, with the white shark population recovering, they always have to assume there are sharks out there,” Lowe said, “so stay in a group, stay together. It’s more fun anyway, and it lowers your chances of becoming an accident.”

A group of sport fishermen angling for tuna off the coast of San Diego last week had front-row seats to see a great white shark eating its lunch. (Footage courtesy of Ethan Hougie with the California Sportfishing Company).