Photo appears to capture sizable shark swimming past children

Posted at 2:24 PM, Dec 30, 2013

MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif. – KTLA viewer June Emerson made a startling discovery while reviewing the photos she took last week during a visit to Manhattan Beach near Los Angeles

One startling image places her 12-year-old son Quinn and his friend directly in front of a breaking wave. Behind them, and to the left, appears to be a rather sizable shark or dolphin swimming in the waters near them.

“It was quite a shock to see,” Emerson told WTVR affiliate KTLA. “Many local surfers and lifeguards have seen this and believe it to be a shark.”

Emerson said she told her children it was a dolphin, “as we live at the beach and are in the waters here almost daily.”

Sightings of great white sharks are not uncommon near Manhattan Beach, however beach officials told KTLA there have been more reported shark sightings this year than they can recall in recent memory.

Officials were unable to confirm if the increase in sightings is due to an increase in shark populations or if iPhones, GoPros and the internet are making it easier to capture shark encounters.

An expert said Monday that it was a dolphin, not a shark.

“This is not a #shark photobombing kids. This is a dolphin,” David “Whysharksmatter” Shiffman tweeted Monday after seeing the reports. Shiffman, a recognized expert on great white sharks, noted in a Facebook posting that “the tail is flat,” like a dolphin and unlike a shark.

Emerson told CNN that it wasn’t until on the way home from the beach that her son spotted the creature in one of the photos she took that afternoon.

She remembers seeing dolphins in the water, but no sharks. Emerson told her son that it was a dolphin so as not to scare him away from the beach where they often swim.

There are plenty of great white sharks in the southern California surf, but they pose no danger to beachgoers, according to Randy Hamilton, a shark expert with California’s Monterey Bay Aquarium.

“I just go back to the last 50 years on how many great white sharks have actually caused a death in southern California,” Hamilton said. “I only know of one incident where someone got a nip on the foot.”

The great whites around southern California are juveniles, also known as “young of the year.” At less than 18 months old, they only eat fish, Hamilton said. When the sharks approach adulthood, they relocate to the cooler waters near San Francisco where they change their diets to mammals — sea lions and seals, he said.

CNN’s Stella Chan contributed to this report.