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An Exploration of the Food Chain

Dear Editors:

With the recent unfortunate shark attack victimizing a 13-year-old surfer girl at Tunnels Beach in Kauai, (the same beach where I and my daughters used to hang out and snorkel) I found myself recalling something that I witnessed a few years ago while living at Half Moon Bay near San Francisco.

I used to lease a horse three years ago at Half Moon Bay and would ride several times a week along the beach toward the "end" where the jagged rocks serve as lounges and perches for sea lions and seals. Since I usually rode alone, this story can't be verified but I swear on my dressage saddle this account is true!

On one particular August morning, I was riding on the beach alongside the frothy shoreline, the waves lapping against my horse's feet. I invited my horse to gallop and was enjoying the splashing sounds created by his powerful pounding hooves, the occasional taste of sea salt, and the refreshing sprinkle of water droplets against my skin. The seagulls were shrieking above and diving and dipping into the waves. My trustworthy steed and I approached the end of the beach where rugged rocks erupted out of the water and were used as sunning decks and diving boards by the local sea lions and seals.

We stopped to watch in awe the Galapagos-type scene. Here there were at least 20 seals and sea lions doing their natural frolic of diving, swimming and clamoring up on the rocks that resembled icebergs from the white frosted coating of defecating birds. No less than 3 feet from where my horse and I were standing in the lapping waves I saw a large, dark dorsal fin moving stealthily across the water alongside the rocks. At first I thought I was imagining this since I'd never seen anything like that except in "Jaws." But as reality sank in, I realized I was witnessing a discerning shark at nature's buffet. I watched the seals continue to dive and swim and dart around the shark, almost in a flirty manner. Why weren't they more afraid? I watched for a while thinking I would definitely be witness to a blood slick as soon as the shark decided which sushi best fit his taste.

I saw a seal dive down into the water next to the shark, I saw the dorsal fin disappear, and I didn't see the seal reappear. No blood, no sound, nothing but squawking seagulls. Life goes on or doesn't.

I left but I returned the next morning to the exact same spot and saw a very large sea lion lying on the beach. I approached the bloated blimp and noticed the sea lion was intact except for its entire head was bitten off, obviously by a shark. So ... that 's the shark story. I know it might seem like no big deal to anyone living in the Bay Area, but for me (a Colorado girl) this was a very out-of-the-ordinary experience.

I moved back to Durango, where I now have mountain lion, black bear and wild turkey stories. Nature has a way of reminding us where we humble humans are on the food chain. In the respective scheme of things, I empathize more with the wild turkeys in terms of humility and scale to the larger picture.

Happy Thanksgiving,

- Pamela Hurley





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