In another example of El Nino's strange effect on sea creatures, a great white shark swam close enough to shore to get hooked by a fisherman off the San Clemente Pier Monday.
Penny Novak was taking a midday stroll with her family when she saw a fisherman struggling with his line at the end of the pier.
"When we looked over the edge, there it was,” Novak said. “Its head was fully out of the water, its mouth was open. It was just like something out of a movie.”
Immediately, she took out her phone and began recording the fight.
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For about 15 minutes, the fisherman tried to get the shark to let go, she said. He had no interest in trying to reel in the large creature.
"Then finally, it went under the water for a little bit. We all thought maybe it died, and then all of the sudden it came back up and we heard like a big, loud crunch, and then it like moved around a little bit and broke free and then took off,” said Novak.
NBC 7 showed video of the encounter to Andrew Nosal, a marine biologist with Scripps Institution of Oceanography. He confirmed the shark was a great white and estimated it was about six feet long.
That means the shark was a baby; great whites don’t usually mature until they’re nine feet long, Nosal said.
A sighting like this is not uncommon, according to the biologist, though young great white sharks are typically seen off the Orange County and northern San Diego County coasts in the summer months.
Warmer winter waters, caused by El Nino, most likely drew the shark closer to the beach.
Keeping the shark on the line put it in a life-threatening situation, Nosal explained. Sharks such as great whites need to keep moving forward in order to breathe.
"In this case, the shark couldn't really do that,” said Nosal, “so it was probably losing oxygen during that fight. But luckily at the end, it seems to have broken free and seemed to swim off, which is a really good sign."
When she first spotted the shark so close to San Diego County, Novak’s first thought went to her family members.
"I was a little freaked out because my family likes to surf so I was thinking, oh my gosh, this is just like 'Jaws,'" she said.
But Nosal said seafarers have little to fear from these young sharks, especially compared to their older relatives who like the colder waters of Northern California.
"We've actually detected some tagged baby white sharks off of Scripps Pier in La Jolla,” said Nosal. “So they're around, and we normally don't see them, and that's a testament to the fact that they're not really interested in us and they typically keep their distance."
He explained any big shark with a big mouth could potentially be dangerous, but the younger ones just feed on fish and are unlikely to approach a human.