Calif. surfer killed in shark attack

Victim identified as Francisco Javier Solorio Jr.

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. - A surfer was killed Tuesday by a shark off a beach at coastal Vandenberg Air Force Base following a summer of shark sightings along California's Central Coast, authorities said.

Francisco Javier Solorio Jr., 39, of Orcutt was killed in the attack off the coast of Surf Beach in Lompoc, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department said in a statement.

He was bitten by the shark in his upper torso.

Solorio "had a friend who he was surfing with who saw the shark bite or hit the man," said sheriff's Sgt. Mark A. Williams. "His friend ended up swimming over and pulling him from the water where he received first aid."

The friend started first aid while another surfer called for help, but Solorio was pronounced dead by paramedics at the scene.

The Air Force said he was not affiliated with the base, which allows public access to some of its beaches. All beaches on the base's coastline will be closed for at least 72 hours, as a precaution, Col. Nina Armagno said Tuesday evening.

The type of shark involved and other details were under investigation.

It was the latest shark attack fatality at Surf Beach, about 150 miles northwest of Los Angeles.   

In October 2010, Lucas Ransom, a 19-year-old student at the University of California, Santa Barbara, died when a shark nearly severed his leg as he body-boarded.

Hundreds of miles south near the coast of San Diego, a 15-foot great white shark is believed to have killed triathlete David Martin in 2008.

There were no shark warning signs posted at Surf Beach on Tuesday, said Lt. Erik Raney, adding that beaches don't typically post such notices unless the location had a recent shark sighting.

"We've had shark sightings up and down the Santa Barbara coastline pretty frequently recently," said Raney, adding that the sightings are well-publicized.

Last month, warning signs were posted at Santa Barbara Harbor, about 65 miles southeast of Surf Beach, after a 14-foot great white shark was spotted by a surfer.

In July, a man escaped injury near Santa Cruz after being thrown from his kayak by a great white shark that bit through the vessel. An almost identical incident occurred off the coast of Cambria in May.

Death by shark attack is rare. An average of 65 shark attacks occur each year around the world that typically result in two or three deaths, according to the Pew Environment Group.

Ralph Collier has been studying sharks since 1963.  He is the president and founder of the Shark Research Committee, which tracks shark attacks around the world.

Collier will travel to Santa Barbara on Wednesday to help investigators determine what kind of shark killed Solorio. Collier said he has a pretty good idea what he will find.

"It sounds like a white shark, an adult white shark of possibly considerable size," said Collier, who plans to take bite measurements and look for tooth fragments on the victim's body and his surfboard.

Collier said it is not unusual for sharks to attack more than once in the same place, saying about 78 percent of the shark attacks he has studied happened in a recurring location. Many of those locations are feeding grounds where seals and sea lions are in abundance. The sharks go there to feed.

Although sharks have good eyesight, Collier says they cannot tell the difference between a human swimming in murky waters and a seal.

The worst months for shark attacks on the west coast are August through October, when the sharks are feeding close to shore. Collier does not recommend swimming or surfing in areas rich with marine life during those months.

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