If you don't tend to make it to the beach when it's cold and rainy, then you definitely missed seeing this marine craziness at Ocean Beach this week.
Twitter user @Seaforager snapped these images of this dead shark Shark with the caption "Holy shite look what I just found on Ocean Beach. Near Taraval!"
"Holy shite" was our response until we found out that this little guy is no Jaws. In fact, some semi-local marine biologists confirmed this for us, explaining that the deceased animal is a Salmon shark who would prefer salmon to your limbs. Hence the name.
Also, these types of occurrences where Salmon sharks are found washed ashore are pretty common, said Aaron Carlisle with the Hopkins Marine Station in Pacific Grove.
He elaborated on why that might be:
They strand up and down the coast pretty consistently in small numbers. In Central/northern CA, strandings peak in the late summer/early fall, but they do strand at all times of the year around here. Every year you hear about 10-20 strandings along the coast (20 would be a big year). But where and when they are reported depends on where people are, so in areas around population centers (i.e. SF, Monterey Bay) you get more reports because there are more people on the beach. Almost every shark that has been necropsied carefully and examined in detail has suffered from a massive case of meningoencephalitis (bacterial brain infection), which likely is the proximate reason for the stranding.
What triggers the infection remains a bit unclear but our best hypothesis is that it's related to an environmental stressor, such as encountering cold water or other stressful conditions, which compromises the immune system and leads to the infection. Most of the strandings, especially during the summer and fall, follow periods of upwelling, which would expose the little sharks (which are endothermic or warm bodied) to very cold water temperatures, and due to their small size they are likely unable to maintain their warm body temperatures, which has severe physiological ramifications and if it doesn't kill them outright, may lead to these infections.
Salmon sharks -- which grow up to 12 feet long and can weigh a frightening 450 pounds -- look much scarier than they are; oftentimes people mistake them for Great Whites, when in fact they've never been identified in any shark attack against humans.
So now you can say you saw a Salmon shark at Ocean Beach.