Seasons in the Sea - A month-by-month guide to Central California sea life
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Sidebar: My personal shark-attack story

Sooner or later, if you spend enough time in the ocean, you will come in contact with sharks. If you're lucky, you will come in contact with something like a leopard shark, which poses no danger to humans. No danger except, perhaps humiliation... As an eight-year-old Junior Lifeguard in Southern California, I had an unforgettable and seriously humiliating encounter with a leopard shark.

I was body surfing a wave toward shore when the wave closed out and I was tumbled in the whitewater. As I stood up in chest-deep water, I felt feeling something very cold and slimy inside my bathing suit, pressed against my left thigh. Something that was alive and wriggling. Something with a very rough skin, which apparently had caught on the fabric of my bathing suit.

Despite my years of Junior Lifeguard training, I panicked and practically ran on water, sprinting for the beach. When I reached the shallows, I looked down and saw the swept-back tip of a shark’s tail protruding from my bathing suit. That set off another wave of panic. I charged out of the water, yelling at the top of my lungs, "Shark! Shark!"

Hyperventilating, I finally reached a lifeguard tower and scrambled up the stairs. At that point, a hapless young leopard shark fell out of my bathing suit and onto the sand below. I could see that it was only about 10 or 12 inches long. But it had seemed huge when it was pressed up next to my leg, wriggling in my shorts.

After catching my breath and regaining my composure, I climbed down to join a crowd of wide-eyed junior lifeguards looking at the alien creature. Eventually, someone picked up the young leopard shark in a towel and carried it back down to the water's edge. The shark swam off unharmed, probably as traumatized by the experience as I was. On the other hand, the shark didn't have to face the merciless ribbing that I got from my fellow junior lifeguards...

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