Thump. We were a twenty-minute swim from shore in the Berkeley Marina when something solid rammed into the side of my leg.
I barely had time to register that something was amiss when I felt the firm, slick skin of something very alive and riled-up slither under my legs; then back again along my stomach.
“Help!” I yelled as the thing started thrashing all around me; as agitated as I was.
It’s a giant fish, I thought.
Then I got a look at its smooth gray body; the shape of its fin. Not a fish.
“Is it a seal?” Angie asked. She had been swimming next to me and was still there, trying to figure out what was going on, what kind of creature was slapping around in the water.
“It’s a shark,” said Colleen. She’d been ahead but swam back when she heard my yelps and had a good look at the creature before it swam away.
Colleen, Angie, and I went for our swim at H.S. Lordships at the Berkeley Marina this morning. The little beach beside that abandoned restaurant is the best place we know of in the East Bay to get into the water without having to crawl through long stretches of muck during the extreme low tides brought on by the super full moon.
It was windy and the water felt cold and unusually dirty. Murky and full of sediment, I couldn’t even see my hand just under the water. It wasn’t an auspicious start, but we headed gamely toward Emeryville, instead of toward the pier like we usually do because we were worried it would be hard to get back with the winds.
Soon, it felt like we were in the middle of the bay. I said to Angie, “I think we’re going to see a seal today.” I think I said it because I felt more vulnerable than usual out there in that unfamiliar part of the bay, even though it was still extremely shallow. I stuck my foot down to feel the reassurance of solid ground.
We had just regrouped and decided to head back toward the pier for a bit when I felt the slam against my leg. The experience was more akin to a frantic kind of confusion than abject fear. By the time I understood that I had just been body slammed by a shark, I was fairly confident the shark was long gone.
Angie, Colleen, and I resumed swimming in a mystified, adrenaline-fueled state.
“Do you want to go back in?” Colleen asked
“Yes,” Angie and I replied in unison without a second’s hesitation.
As we swam back toward shore we excitedly recounted the incident from our different perspectives, trying to piece together what happened. We agreed the shark had probably hit me on accident and then had its own panic about what had just happened and flailed around a bit before hightailing it out of there. It’s probably sitting down right now to compose its own blog post about the terrifying encounter it just had with a soft, pasty human: (“It started screaming and slapping its useless fins…”
There are at least eleven species of shark that make their homes in the San Francisco Bay. Leopard Sharks are the most common. We also have Sevengill Sharks, which are the apex predator in the bay, Swell Sharks, Blue Sharks, Salmon Sharks, Angel Sharks, Soupfin Sharks, Spiny Dogfish, Brown Smooth-Hound sharks, Pacific Sleeper Sharks, and Basker Sharks. What we generally don’t get inside the bay, despite popular media depictions, are Great Whites. Just outside the Golden Gate they are plentiful, but for a combination of reasons, they don’t venture into the bay except very rarely and by mistake.
Based on what we were able to see of the shark, its location, and the time of year, we narrowed our shark down to a Spiny Dogfish, a Brown Smooth-Hound Shark, or a Soupfin Shark, and based on size and color, we are leaning toward a Soupfin Shark. We think it was about 5 ft, which is on the smaller side for a Soupfin, but bigger than the Spiny Dogfish. And, we all agree the shark was gray, not brown. Soupfin sharks hang out near the ocean floor, often close to shore. Because the tides were so low this morning, we humans were swimming along the bottom, which probably explains why the shark and I so gracelessly collided.