Grigor Azatian grabbed his spear gun, dived into picturesque Stillwater Cove and suddenly became aware that he wasn’t the only predator in the water.
Azatian, 25, and his father, Armen, were spearfishing Friday afternoon in the cove in Northern California, a site especially good for nabbing red abalone, lingcod and rockfish.
“He jumped in the boat, grabbed his spear gun went down and saw the shark,” Armen Azatian told the Monterey NBC affiliate KSBW. “Great white. From his description, it was about 15 feet long.”
Azatian said the shark bit his son two or three times on one leg. It’s unclear how the younger man was able to get away, but he somehow made it back to the boat.
When he got in, his father saw that his son had a mangled leg and was losing “massive” amounts of blood.
As Armen Azatian tried to save his son, two off-duty sheriff’s deputies fishing nearby noticed the commotion and helped the Azatians get to shore. One of the deputies was trained in emergency field medicine, according to the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office, and tightened a tourniquet around Grigor Azatian’s leg to stanch the blood loss.
The deputies contacted headquarters, which sent help — and an airplane to search the area for the shark.
The air unit “spotted a large aquatic animal off Pescadero Point, which may have been a shark,” the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement on its Facebook page.
Authorities spent the rest of the afternoon evacuating Stillwater Cove and warning people to stay out of the water.
Azatian was airlifted to a hospital, where doctors stabilized him. The shark had ripped chunks of flesh off his leg, his father said, but hadn’t severed major arteries. He is expected to make a full recovery.
Shark attacks, especially by great whites, are extremely uncommon and rarely fatal.
The massive sharks are killing machines — apex predators that can grow to 20 feet long and weigh more than 4,000 pounds, according to the Smithsonian. But they don’t find humans all that appetizing, preferring to eat the fatty, calorie-dense seals that inhabit California’s coastlines.
Between 1926 and roughly January of this year, 120 people have been attacked by sharks off the coast of California, according to the International Shark Attack File, which documents incidents across the globe. In Monterey County, there were at least 11 unprovoked attacks before Friday.
Although it’s not uncommon to spot sharks along the California coast, they seem to be appearing in greater numbers of late, The Washington Post’s Travis M. Andrews and Derek Hawkins reported this spring. Higher sea temperatures could be at play, but the increase in reports could also be because of a larger number of smartphones in the hands of beachgoers, who quickly spread video of the attacks.
There are also, simply put, more people. As the global population grows, so does the number of beachgoers splashing into sharks’ natural habitat.
As the International Shark Attack File wrote in a report about 2016 shark attacks:
Shark populations are actually declining or holding at greatly reduced levels in many areas of the world as a result of over-fishing and habitat loss, theoretically reducing the opportunity for these shark-human interactions.
However, year-to-year variability in local meteorological, oceanographic, and socioeconomic conditions also significantly influences the local abundance of sharks and humans in the water and, therefore, the odds of encountering one another.
“El Niño conditions last year created warmer temperatures that enticed white sharks to linger along the Southern California shoreline into the winter and then return quickly again early this spring,” Joshua Emerson Smith wrote in the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Most people who get attacked by sharks survive, as nature writer Sy Montgomery told The Post last year.
And people who get attacked are probably mistaken for something else — particularly people thrashing around in the water near schools of fish.