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Shark Attacks: Surfer Killed in Northern California, Another Escapes in Australia

Animals
Shark Attacks: Surfer Killed in Northern California, Another Escapes in Australia
Beachcombers walk along Manresa State Beach in Santa Cruz County, California on May 9, 2020, after a shark attack claimed the life of a surfer. Karl Mondon / MediaNews Group / The Mercury News via Getty Images

A 26-year-old man was killed by a shark as he was surfing near a state beach in Northern California on Saturday, according to authorities, as The New York Times reported.


Ben Kelly was roughly 100 yards from shore at Manresa State Beach near Santa Cruz when a shark attacked him around 1:30 p.m., the California Department of Parks and Recreation said on Sunday, according to The New York Times. While the beach was closed to encourage social distancing, the water was open for people to engage in water sports, like surfing and swimming.

A witness flagged down a lifeguard patrolling the area. Since the attack, the beach and water are now closed until May 14. The water is off-limits for one mile north and south of the attack and signs have been posted to inform potential beachgoers of the presence of sharks, according to the AP.

Monterey Bay drone photographer Eric Mailander told KRON he has observed dozens of great white sharks swimming near the shoreline in recent days. He said he counted 15 sharks while out on his boat Saturday morning, as the AP reported.

The species of shark that attacked Mr. Kelly is still unknown, the Department of Parks and Recreation said in a statement.

Simon R. Thorrold, a senior scientist in the biology department at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Falmouth, Massachusetts, said in an interview that his "best guess" was that it was a great white shark, as The New York Times reported.

"White sharks are big enough and their teeth are so sharp that even a halfhearted attempt will cause significant injuries," he said.

Fatal shark attacks are rare along the Northern California coast, although it is a major breeding ground for the great white shark, according to KPIX, San Francisco's CBS affiliate. There have been at least two other fatal attacks since 1984, KPIX noted, but those involved divers. In March, a shark bit the board of a paddleboarder near Capitola, narrowly missing him, according to the sheriff's office.

"Hippos kill way more people every year than sharks do," Thorrold said to The New York Times. He added that while sharks prefer not to eat humans, the silhouette of a surfboard with a paddling surfer can resemble a seal from under the water.

"Seals are part of their natural prey," Thorrold told The New York Times. "It is not unreasonable to think that the shark thinks it is a seal and gets to the surfer and realizes pretty quickly it does not want to eat it. By that time, the shark has done enough damage to the human that it can end in tragedy."

According to The Washington Post, Kelly described himself as a self-taught surfboard shaper on his company's website. He wrote that his boards are "well represented here at home in Santa Cruz, California" as well as in Bali, South Africa, Mexico, Central America, Peru and Hawaii. Video posted on the site shows him shaping a surfboard.

"What started as a way to fuel my own surfing passion has now become a way to stoke out my fellow surfers, and that is truly fulfilling for me," Kelly said in his bio. "It's the way I have found to give back to others."

On the other side of the world, a shark bit a French surfer in Australia, but the surfer was able to get away. Video of the incident shows Dylan Nacass and Matt Sedunary yelling and scrambling to get away from a stalking shark, as The Guardian reported.

Nacass, 23, punched the shark twice when it attacked him at Bells Beach in Victoria, according to Sky News. He needed stitches for his puncture wounds.

"I punched him one time, he stay in my legs. Two times after, he go," he told television news in Australia.

Matt Sedunary heard screaming and thought Nacass was joking around. After realizing the seriousness of the situation, he rushed to help, as Sky News reported.

"I'm not gonna just ditch this guy," he said. "Most people would do the same thing."

A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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