Sustainable surf: Sharks warn of warming threat

What many call an Indian Summer, we call October.

San Franciscans know, summer comes late. In May and June you will be bundled in a parka at a Giants game and whipped by wind that seems to have come from the Arctic. But come October the sun’s warmth, relatively windless days and perfect skies greet you day in a day out.

But even for us, this year has been different. Never mind the drought and snowpack that is considered the worst in 500 years. Never mind the unseasonably warm winter.  Global warming can be seen in the Bay in too many ways to count, be it mosquito bites from the night before (I’ve never once closed my windows here, but recently I wish I had) to the sharks out on the bay.

Just how real is global warming? Too real. Case in point: Friday a friend of mine decided to go surf on Ocean Beach (a place known for terrifying big wave winter surf). The waves were big and pretty, more like the Southern California waves I’ve surfed than the Bay Area waves that scare me silly.

Only at the last minute did she tell me her plans were cancelled. As it turned out, it might have been for the best. That very day the Coast Guard spotted a school–no, make that a literal graduating class–of Great White sharks a football field’s length off Ocean Beach.

“This is the first I’d heard of near-shore aggregating in such an urban area,” Mary Jane Schramm, spokeswoman for the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, told SFGate.

Nobody, including my friend who avoided the surf that day, turned into dinner for wandering sharks looking for food farther north than normal. But one sea lion a few days earlier wasn’t so lucky. Captured on video (that I won’t show here) a great white devoured its prey near Alcatraz in front of many onlookers. A bay known for its brutal cold and myths about sharks is now inverted. The water is warm enough, and the sharks are not only real but hungry.

I spoke to a guy today who surfed nearby Stinson Beach Saturday and said it was beautiful. He hadn’t heard about the sharks but was glad he didn’t. A great surf day. Personally, I’ll wait until the sharks move on, just to be safe.

The sharks are just doing what they do. This is not to sound the alarm to go to war on sharks. Nor do sightings and threats create the need for silly politics to appease the worried humans as was the case a decade ago in Virginia when sharks started eating tourists. Then Republican Gov. James Gilmore responded with a multi-million dollar task force to figure out why the shark attacks were occurring. I wrote a column with the answer: They are hungry. I included a bill for $1 million for my services, huge savings on his committee. He didn’t pay.

Sharks create silliness and overreaction and all sorts of stuff that isn’t our finest moment. But in reality they are telling us something: Global warming is real, and our lifestyles are unsustainable.

So no, we don’t need a committee, and yes, we can probably still surf. What we do need is to recognize and support those doing things to make our planet better for both us and the sharks and all of us coinhabitants who depend on the health of this spinning blue, green miracle we call Earth. One such organization: Sustainable Surf.

Sustainable Surf is a California-based non-profit charity organization founded by social entrepreneurs Michael Stewart and Kevin Whilden.  Their mission is to “be the catalyst that transforms surf culture into a powerful force for protecting the ocean playground.”

The organization uses the best practices of systems approaches to leverage interest in the ocean toward sustaining it. It is a perfect example of those who love the ocean (or for that matter anyone who depends on it, which would be… hmmm…. everyone? right?) to best care for it and promote its health. Global warming is at the top of the list of concerns.

“Surfing is now seen as one of the leading ways to help society get stoked on solving major problems like climate change, sea level rise, and ocean acidification,” of the group’s blog stated.

It’s an organization I am yes, totally stoked about. October summer in San Francisco is the best, but sometimes too much of a great thing should get our attention. Do more than gawk at videos of killer sharks. Get involved in sustaining the oceans that sustain our life.


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