Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Lions and Tiger Sharks and Bears, Oh My

My wife’s folks live in Morro Bay, California, and we have traditionally loved to go and visit them in their sleepy little beach town, but at this point, we may need them to move. Apparently, all the dangerous animals in North America are descending on Morro Bay, no doubt lured in by the bargains on touristy sea shell art and good clam chowder.

We were there with them last week, and everything with large teeth showed up at the same time. We were greeted with the news that a shark had bitten a surfer’s board just south of the bay two days before our arrival. The surfer was uninjured, but the board did not fare as well. Officials said the eleven-inch diameter bite ring left in the board suggested a shark length of approximately “holy-crap-who-the-hell-cares-how-long-it-is-its-mouth-is-a-foot-wide!” That was obviously just an estimate, since officials were unable to determine the species, but one unnamed Fish and Game officer was quoted as saying, “Whatever kind of shark we’re dealing with, it’s not too bright. It chose to bite into the hard foam surfboard, when the soft, tasty surfer was right there.”

Choosing to believe that the bungling shark, which may or may not have learned from its culinary mistake, would obviously go further south in search of warmer waters and softer prey, we bravely made our way down to the beach. We were greeted by flyers posted at all the public beach access points, warning us of a “Confirmed Shark Sighting” in north Morro Bay the day before. The flyer advised us to “enter the water at your own risk,” and to “keep away from marine wildlife.” In an apparent jurisdictional mix-up between the coastal first-responders, the flyers were printed and distributed by the fire department. No one could figure out why, since, as far as anyone can remember, no sharks in Morro Bay have ever caught on fire.

Since none of us had brought surfboards - the obvious preferred dining option of central coast sharks - we were reluctant to venture too far out into the water, for fear of becoming the backup meal plan. We did allow the children to play in the ocean - in this case, the ocean being defined as the wet sand instead of the dry sand - and considered ourselves to be perfectly safe. Boy, were we wrong!

Little did we know, the water may have been the safest place. We returned to the house later that day to the news of three confirmed mountain lion sightings in and around Morro Bay that morning. We had foolishly been facing the ocean all day, paying no attention to the trees and bushes behind us that could have contained a deadly beast. We considered ourselves lucky to be alive, having literally been surrounded by dangerous wild animals all day. One official from the Harbor Patrol was quoted as saying, “Now we need the fire department. It’s a cat.”

We stayed inside for the rest of the trip and played gin rummy.

This infestation of carnivorous beasts is nothing new. In May of 2013, morning surfers alerted city officials that there was a bear wandering around on Morro Rock, which sits on a small peninsula, basically out in the middle of the ocean. After drug testing the surfers and coming up negative, the officials were forced to look into their story. Sure enough, there was a 250-pound black bear sitting in the bushes at the base of the big rock, less than fifty feet from the beach that would soon be populated with tourists.

Since there were apparently no concurrent shark or mountain lion sightings to deal with, almost every agency within a thirty-mile radius was called in for support. State police, local police, firemen, State Parks, Harbor Patrol, Fish and Game, the marines, guards of the national, life, and coast varieties, EMTs, meter maids, boat captains, a small detachment from the local VFW, and even the janitor in charge of the Morro Rock Beach public bathroom were all on-scene and available to help.

The bear caused such a panic among the Morro Bay officials that the high school, over half a mile away, was put on lock-down. The Morro Bay High School principal ignored the opportunity to have one of the most epic impromptu all-school field trips ever, in favor of locking the kids in their classrooms to stare down at their phones some more. That seems short-sighted to me, but in all fairness, he might have been worried that many of his pasty-white, video-game-generation students would simply not be able to physically make it a half-mile down the beach. It’s all about the children’s safety, after all.

Despite the fire department’s insistence on being the lead agency, stating repeatedly that the bear looked awfully dry, the California Department of Fish and Game finally took control of the scene. They shot the bear with a tranquilizer dart and relocated it to California Valley, which was viewed by many to be inhumane, since California Valley is nothing but hundreds of thousands of acres of dry brown grass, and does not have good fish tacos. In any case, the wayward bear was certainly not the first Morro Bay tourist to take drugs and wake up in an unfamiliar place, but he was definitely the hairiest.

The Morro Rock bear was by far the most exciting thing to happen in the little tourist town last year. I’m fine with a little excitement once in a while, but it really seemed like the animals were ganging up on us this trip. We will probably still keep visiting, though, if for no other reason than the fantastic local news coverage of these events.

The 2013 bear news highlight had to be this gem of an observation by one local reporter: “While this is the first sighting of a bear at Morro Rock, bears have been spotted just south of here in Los Osos.”

That revelation may have even prompted the first-year Spanish students at Morro Bay High School to glance up from their phones long enough to say, “Duh!”

See you soon,


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  1. This post had me howling! Wish we could have been able to get to MB to see you all! Guess we have to wait til the Christmas party!

  2. Thanks, Tif. Missed you guys, too, but we enjoyed our time with the rest of the Patton women. Cheers!