A crucial detail in the photo appearing to show a shark photobombing two kids paddling on surfboards ahead of a breaking wave at California’s Manhattan Beach may reveal the creature is actually a dolphin, though experts still aren’t entirely sure.
Shark expert David Shiffman highlighted a key distinction between sharks and dolphins to CNN, pointing out that dolphins have flat, horizontal fins. He said the tail on the photographed creature is flat, making it a dolphin.
This sentiment was echoed by Diane Alps of the Los Angeles chapter of the American Cetacean Society
“Sure looks to be a bottlenose dolphin! Single falcate dorsal fin, horizontal flukes,” she told Grind TV. “General body shape looks dolphin-esque too.”
“It’s very common for dolphins to be riding in the surf,” she added to the Long Beach Press Telegram.
But not everyone agrees with the analysis.
Discovery Channel shark expert Jeff Kurr told CNN he thinks it was a “juvenile great white shark about 10 to 12 feet long.”
“I would say based on the shape of the dorsal fin, which is more straight, that shows me it’s a great white shark,” Kurr said. “Plus, the fact that that particular beach has become the epicenter for white shark activity, I would say it’s definitely a white shark.”
Other experts say they are torn.
“I’m a 50-50 split,” said Chris Lowe, the professor who heads California State University Long Beach’s shark lab.
“Both white sharks and dolphins are known to be just outside that surf zone, it’s not uncommon,” he told the Press Telegram. “It’s a little late in the year for a white shark; however we’ve had some stick around until January or February, but a majority of the little ones migrate south.”
Cabrillo Marine Aquarium Mike Schaadt echoed that sentiment to the paper.
“It’s not real definitive, one way or the other,” he said.
“Dolphins are typically in (wave) pictures, but this looks a little different,” Schaadt added to the Press Telegram. “It could be a baby white shark.”
“If, in fact, it was a white shark, it would not be terribly surprising,” he continued, noting that he’d “probably lean toward a dolphin,” but said “it’s really hard to tell from the photograph.”
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