Shark involved in Santa Cruz surfer attack is 99% likely to be a great white over 10 feet long, expert says

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (KGO) -- We're learning the shark that attacked a 26-year-old in Santa Cruz County was over 10 feet long.

The Santa Cruz County coroner's office identified the victim of Saturday's attack as Ben Kelly. Sean Van Sommeran is the executive director of the Pelagic Shark Research Foundation.

Van Sommeran says the autopsy is still being performed but there's a "99% chance" that the shark that bit Kelly was a great white shark.

RELATED: 26-year-old surfer killed in Santa Cruz shark attack was passionate about the sport

Kelly was an avid surfer who customized surfboards for a living. He was surfing with a friend near Manresa State Beach on the northern end of Monterey Bay Saturday afternoon when he was attacked.

The attack happened within 100 yards (91 meters) offshore, and a witness flagged down a lifeguard patrolling the area, authorities told the Santa Cruz Sentinel. Van Sommeran says Kelly and his friend were able to swim to shore after he was bitten but they couldn't stop the bleeding.

In recent days and weeks, many juvenile sharks have been seen in the Soquel Cove area that has become known as 'Shark Park' by locals. Van Sommeran says this is nothing new and that these juvenile sharks have been coming to this area since 2015.

The females drop the young pups off during migration and the juveniles can be seen in the warmer months from March up until the fall. Van Sommeran reiterates that this attack was not from a juvenile but a shark over 10 feet long.

RELATED: Officials identify 26-year-old surfer killed in shark attack off Santa Cruz coast

As a safety precaution, authorities closed the water 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) north and south of the attack until Thursday, and signs have been posted warning beachgoers about the attack.

At the time of the attack, the beach was closed to visitors to maintain physical-distancing norms during the coronavirus crisis, but swimming and surfing was allowed in the water.

Peter Mel, Owner of Freeline Surf Shop said, "This guy had so much knowledge of the ocean, he's been surfing for his entire life. He understood the area, he's been traveling all over the world, so he's one of those guys you know understood the risks. You just hope that it doesn't happen, but it wasn't anything where he was making a mistake."

Mel said Kelly operated a small surfboard business, manufacturing them in his home.

On the website for his business, Ben Kelly Surfboards, Kelly explained that began shaping surfboards as a boy because it gave him a creative outlet and fueled his love for surfing.

"Why do I shape surfboards? Well... it's something I've done since I was a kid. A sort of escape from an overly-productive world to a simpler more creative space! What started as a way to fuel my own surfing passion has now become a way to stoke out my fellow surfers, and that is truly fulfilling to me. It's the way I have found to give back to others," he wrote. "You should feel stoked each time you enter the water and comfortable on your own board,''
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