Raymundo Ayus Jr. said he introduced his friend to spearfishing Monday, April 6 at about 6:56 a.m. in the waters off South La Jolla, but what happened during the trip tore their friendship apart.
Ayus and his friend dove into the Pacific Ocean off Camino de la Costa, he said, when the duo caught a big white sea bass. But a large predator snatched the fishermen’s prize.
Ayus said a great white shark shoved him, stole the newly caught 50-pound sea bass and then circled him — disappearing and reappearing — until Ayus swam safely through a kelp bed to shore. Despite Ayus’s detailed description, some divers said they don’t believe the story, claiming the men may have encountered a smaller sevengill shark.
“It was a sevengill shark. Those things have been taking fish,” said a local spear fisherman, who said he’s been diving in the area more than 20 years.
Ralph S. Collier started the nonprofit Shark Research Committee in 1962, investigating attacks and encounters, mainly involving great white sharks. Collier said he believes Ayus’s attack.
“I’ve investigated these since 1962. It’s factual. It did occur — there’s no motivation for this man to report it as a stunt,” Collier said, adding that he regularly interviews shark attack witnesses about shark encounters. “I’m satisfied the event was factual.”
Ayus, 32, said he has been diving for more than 20 years, mostly in Florida. New to the area, Ayus said that for the past two years he has been learning about the waters off San Diego. But Ayus is not a stranger to sharks, either.
About 16 years ago, a bull shark attacked Ayus while he was diving in Florida, he said. Two large half-moons meet on Ayus’s right forearm, forming a scar from the bull shark’s mouth. Despite Ayus’s knowledge of spearfishing, diving, fish and sharks, the man said he was hesitant about reporting the incident.
“I don’t want the other divers to think of me as a shark magnet,” Ayus said.
Ayus’s diving buddy would not come forward, he said. Ayus said the friends stopped speaking after the incident.
“We had a falling out because he broke the golden rule: Dive buddies stay together,” Ayus said.
“About 20 minutes into the dive I looked up and saw my buddy waving. As I swam toward him I realized he had shot a white sea bass and it was tangled 60 feet below in the kelp,” Ayus reported. He dove down to the cut the bass free, in an effort to aid his inexperienced friend.
“Kelp has little fish swimming around. They moved away, so I looked and saw the nose of a shark open up its gums and teeth,” Ayus said.
The predator was dark gray with a white belly, Ayus said. She was scratched many times on her nose and one gill was torn a little bit, he said.
“The worst part was seeing the gums and teeth coming out,” Ayus said.
Those teeth took the men’s catch — the sea bass — and then turned right, shoving Ayus with her fin.
“It feels like sandpaper. It feels like a push,” Ayus said.
Collier said the moment the shark made physical contact with Ayus, the encounter officially became an attack.
“She went poof [disappeared] and left me there. She circled me and then disappeared,” Ayus said. “I thought, ‘This is it, I felt like a guppy.’”
Ayus swam toward the shore, he said, noting that the shore’s safety was about 100 yards away so he dove down to look one last time.
“I dove, looked around and I didn’t see her, so I went as fast as I could,” Ayus said.
Ayus reached the shore, where his buddy was waiting, he said. Ayus reported the incident to a local diving website and Collier’s shark research website, he said.
According to Collier, the shark was probably a female.
“From early spring, babies are born so females come closer to give birth to their offspring,” Collier said.
Collier said he worked with the Office of Naval Research and the Smithsonian. Through Collier’s current nonprofit group, he started a shark-tagging program in an effort to research the great white shark’s behavior, but the program ran out of funding.
“After they gave birth, the sharks would go to the islands because that’s where the pinnipeds were, but now the pinniped population inhabits the coast from the Oregon border to the Mexican border,” he said.
In addition, Collier studies and reports shark sightings and sightings of marine mammals with shark bites, he said.
“If you go back 20 years ago, you never had seals at Children’s Pool. This affords the great whites to feed without moving away,” Collier said. “That’s something we have been looking at for a number of years.”
Great white sharks feed on marine mammals, including seals, sea lions and dolphins, Collier said. The marine mammal and pinniped population has increased along the California and Oregon coast, Collier said.
“A number of seals and sea lions were reported to us washing ashore with a bite in them. Now it’s happening all year,” Collier said. “Several were reported prior to Dr. Martin and after that.”
Dr. David Martin was the swimmer killed by a great white shark a year ago this month off Solana Beach.
Collier said a shark-bitten dolphin washed ashore at Cardiff last week and surfers reported sharks around that area. At this time of year, historically, reports escalate, he said. For information, visit www.sharkresearchcommittee