Dave Martin, a 66-year old retired Solana Beach veterinarian and member of the San Diego Triathlon Club, was killed today during a rare shark attack while swimming off the coast of Solana Beach.
Martin was among a group of about 10 triathletes when he was attacked midway through a weekly morning open water swim. Martin died from trauma to his legs associated with the attack from what was believed to be a great white shark.
"In 100 years, I would never have imagined this to occur here in North County," said Solana Beach lifeguard captain Craig Miller. "But sharks live in the ocean. I don't know why or how, but unfortunately they found this area."
While not all the swimmers with Martin have been identified, sources named local triathletes Anita and Ken Flagg, Diana Noble, Penny Shelley and Rob Hill as among them. Shelley and Hill opted not to swim, but were on-site.
Hill spoke briefly at the late morning press conference in Solana Beach, asking that the family be given time to grieve the loss. Solana Beach Mayor Joe Kellejian offered his condolences, simply stating "we're all shocked."
The group had been swimming northbound, approximately 150 yards off shore. They were beyond the surf in waters about 20 feet deep, headed to a surf break called Tabletops at Tide Park. A further 50 to 75 yards out is a string of kelp beds. The athletes typically swim longshore (parallel to the shore) until lifeguards put buoys out in the water in mid-May. Swimmers tend to aim for these buoys during training. It was at Tabletops where the attack took place.
Martin was hit by the shark and lifted out of the water, according to those swimming with him. He appeared to scream "shark" to his swim partners, two of whom pulled Martin from the water after the attack. Solana Beach lifeguards, alerted by the yelling, were on-site at the shore and lifted Martin to a truck and drove him to the bluff top at Fletcher Cove. Attempts to save Martin failed.
Reports say both of Martin's legs were damaged in the attack, but intact. His femoral arteries were severed, causing excessive bleeding that was difficult to stem. An air ambulance was on-site upon Martin's arrival at Fletcher Cove, but he was pronounced dead at 7:49 a.m.
Miller announced that the area south to Torrey Pines State Beach and north to South Carlsbad, an eight-mile stretch, will be under a 72-hour advisory, with swimmers and surfers urged—but not banned—from entering the waters.
Coast Guard helicopters canvassed the shoreline Friday looking for the shark. California State Law protects great white sharks, so a positive identification may not result in its destruction unless it poses a specific further threat to humans. An aerial Coast Guard search will continue until 6 p.m. today, and will resume at daylight and take place through the weekend.
Richard Rosenblatt, a marine biologist at Scripps Institute of Oceanography in La Jolla was on-site at the press conference to provide his opinion as to how Martin became a victim of such a rare attack.
"We are almost certain it was a great white shark. It's difficult to say how big it was, but it may have been anywhere from 12 to 17 foot long," he said. "It is not a resident population to this area, but occasionally females can be spotted near here as they pup their young."
Rosenblatt explained the incident: "I was told the victim was pushed up out of the water, attacked from below with a powerful rush and a powerful bite, likely thinking it was a seal. This is typically what a white shark would do, because to a shark a swimmer is not unlike a seal as it looks up at a silhouette on the water surface."
Rosenblatt said the last report of a San Diego-area shark attack came in 1994 when a body was found floating off the Ocean Beach pier with a bite wound. Rosenblatt added that the bite in that case could have been post-mortem.
Miller added, "I've been here in Solana Beach for 39 years, and we have never had a shark attack here. We never even had a white shark sighting."
Martin was remembered as a well-liked person. Dan Rock of B&L Bike and Sport in Solana Beach reminisced that, "Dave used to borrow my triathlon bike when he did shorter races like Solana Beach or Mission Bay… a lot of Koz races.
"I guess people get nipped," Rock continued, "But for a guy to just go down like that… it’s a tough one. The people that were swimming with him, some of them are really struggling right now."
Rock, an avid surfer and waterman, added, "One of my friends, RJ, called me and said he'd seen a small, baby great white at Cardiff Reef a week ago Sunday."
Pat Muirragui, 36, one of Martin's San Diego Tri Club teammates, stood overlooking the ocean on the bluff following the press conference, trying to make sense of the attack. "I got a text to go out with them this morning at 6:30, but it was too early for me—I prefer the evening (La Jolla) cove swim," Muirragui said. "They go out for a mile, come back and have breakfast at Naked Café. My friend Loreen was out swimming with them, though, and when I heard the news, I was horrified—I thought it could have been Loreen, but in general, my heart just sunk."
Miller said that while the event will certainly raise concern about water safety, the rarity of this accident shouldn’t be lost. "Thinking about our past history here and the fact that it is so rare, I can only imagine that this is a freak accident. I certainly hope it is," he said.
Miller added that, "We have two major triathlons coming up, and it's a concern. With these triathlons, we don't send people out too far, but even with this particular group this morning, they weren't out that far."
Meanwhile, surfers continued to wait for waves offshore just two miles north at Seaside and Cardiff Reef, only hours after the attack. "This is probably going to affect our swimming and triathlon community a bit more than our surfing community."
Muirragui had his own plans. "There have never been attacks here before, but now I’m spooked. I used to surf here all the time at Tabletops. You never know what's lurking out there… It's the shark's home. And the kelp beds out there, I would think could be dangerous because they're loaded with fish. I've been doing ocean swims twice a week now, but it'll be a long time now before I get in the water to go swimming."
"You think about all the people, all the time, all the years, it’s gotta be a freak accident," Rock said. "It's unfortunate, but the guy was doing something he really loved to do, probably having a great day, and I hope I am as well when I go."
San Diego Triathon Club members will meet at B&L Bike and Sport along Coast Highway 101 this evening at 6 p.m. after closing to discuss the accident. Rock said the triathlon community at large is invited to offer their condolences. The store is at 211 Coast Hwy. 101, and people are gathering around 6 pm. Martin is survived by 4 children and several grandchildren.