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Man Attacked by Great White Shark Swimming in Gray Whale Cove on San Mateo Coast

PACIFICA (KPIX) -- A swimmer was bitten by a shark Saturday morning just off a popular beach in San Mateo County. He survived the attack but the beach was closed to swimmers and visitors are wondering when it may be safe to go back in the water.

At about 9:15 a.m., a man was in the water at Gray Whale Cove State Beach south of Pacifica when a juvenile great white shark, reportedly 6 to 8 feet long, bit him on the leg. It quickly released its grip and swam off.

"It was only one bite and there were about 10 lacerations to the back of the right thigh," said Brian Ham, San Mateo Fire Department battalion chief. "And the surfer was able to swim back into shore with assistance from bystanders."

Gray Whale Cove State Beach on the San Mateo Coast
Gray Whale Cove State Beach on the San Mateo Coast. (CBS)

There were bloody footprints on the sand where the 39-year-old man moved up the beach, waiting until first responders could arrive to transport him to the hospital. Even hours later, beachgoers were not venturing into the water.

"Everybody freaks out," said Fatima Aguilera, "because it's a shark and, you know, it's the stigma of it and all and people get scared and sharks rarely bite anyone so I feel like that's why people get tripped out and scared."

Bites may be rare but there are lots of sharks along the coast of San Mateo County. What is alarming people now is how close to the beach Saturday's attack took place.

"Usually they're within the surf zone, so they're within 100 to 200 feet of the actual beach," chief Ham said, acknowledging that most people don't expect great white sharks so close to shore. "It's shallow but a shark can attack very close to the beach," he added.

Officials say sharks don't hunt for humans and probably mistook the surfer for a seal.

Beachgoer Rob Finley believes this incident will be enough to trigger people's visceral fears.

"The fear factor's already there and then you add to it, like, a local attack, and that would inspire me to get out of the water," he said.

Everyone else seemed to agree and, throughout the morning, stayed well up on the strand. Around noon, park workers arrived to place signs warning people to stay out of the water for the next two days.

The surfer, whose name has not been released, was stable when transported to the hospital where he was treated for serious injury to the leg and released late Saturday afternoon.

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