Don’t fall out of the kayak.
That’s what was racing through Danny McDaniel’s mind when he saw the snout of a 19-foot great white shark about six inches from his backside as it chomped into his kayak off Catalina Island.
Now, McDaniel and friend Jon Chambers, who was following in a kayak behind his, have two unique souvenirs — large, pointy teeth that fell into McDaniel’s boat after the predator bit his kayak, Saturday, Oct. 5.
“He gets one and I get one — and we’re going to hang on to them,” McDaniel said.
The duo were on a weekend excursion organized by Power Scuba, a San Diego club that hosts scuba-diving trips. They had done two morning dives and had some time to kill in the afternoon before a night outing, so the duo decided to jump into kayaks and explore Ship Rock, about 2.5 miles from where they launched at Emerald Bay.
They were about 150 yards from their destination when McDaniel’s nine-foot kayak was jolted, the impact coming from the right side.
“My first initial thought was he was messing with me. I realized immediately it was too much force for anybody to be causing,” McDaniel said of Chambers.
When McDaniel turned, he saw it: the nose of the shark about six inches from his butt, he said, across the front of the kayak at a 60- to 75-degree angle.
“It was an immense body, it was crazy big. I’ve swam with whale sharks a few weeks prior — it was bigger than a lot of the whale sharks I dove with,” he said. “My mind was confused … I couldn’t compute the size of the shark, it was ginormous.”
As the shark bit down next to him, one thing crossed his mind about a thousand times, he said. Don’t fall off the kayak.
“This all lasted about four to five seconds,” he said. “At the same time, I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God, look at the size of this thing. Jon can’t do anything for me. That’s a great white. Oh geez.’ But the biggest thought in my head was ‘don’t fall off this kayak.’”
Holding his paddle, McDaniel leaned toward the opposite side of the kayak, trying to distance himself from the shark. He never saw the shark’s teeth, he said, or its dark eyes — just the snout, and then the body.
“I was kind of focused on the body, because it was huge,” he said.
Meanwhile, Chambers yelled out “hit it!” And just then, the shark let go and disappeared into the ocean.
The duo looked at each other, then looked around to make sure the shark didn’t come back for a second bite – and then broke out in laughter.
“Do you want to finish the paddle?” Chambers asked.
“Hell no,” McDaniel recalled saying. “We turned immediately and headed toward Emerald Bay.”
It was then they noticed the first shark tooth left behind, in McDaniel’s seat, and then another tooth under a drone case he brought in hopes of getting images on their excursion.
Measurements show the teeth were about two inches long. Based on the tooth size, a shark expert estimated the shark at about 19 feet long “and some change,” McDaniel said.
“We’re lucky we came out unscathed and we have an awesome story to tell,” he said.
They aren’t the first kayakers to have an up-close encounter with a great white.
A report released last year showed that Pacific coast shark attacks on kayakers are on the rise. Of nine attacks in 2017, four were on kayakers, including one in Monterey where the shark flipped the kayak and relentlessly rammed the vessel until the man inside was shot out into the water. A woman in a kayak off Oceanside last year was stalked by a great white that bumped her two miles from the coast.
When a shark rams a kayak, it’s usually not predatory behavior, and it’s not a case of mistaken identity, a goof on the shark’s part thinking kayaks are whales or sea lions, according to Shark Research Committee founder Ralph Collier. It’s most likely “displacement behavior,” meaning the shark wants the object, or person, to leave the area, he said in a previous article.
As for McDaniel and Chambers, they continued their trip, setting out to dip below the ocean surface for their night dive. Were they nervous their new friend would reappear?
“Not in the slightest,” McDaniel said.