On Christmas Eve, a 31-year-old man was killed in an apparent shark attack while in the water in Morro Bay. It's the first fatal shark attack of 2021 in the U.S.

Shark attacks on humans remain exceedingly rare, and rarer still are fatal ones. But one unfortunate man with a boogie board in the waters off Morro Bay State Park beach was found unresponsive and face down in the water by a female surfer just before 11 a.m. on Friday. The surfer tried bringing him to shore, but the man, only identified so far as a 31-year-old male, was likely already dead. As ABC News reported, Morro Bay Harbor Patrol soon arrived to assist the surfer in bringing the man to shore.

No one witnessed the actual attack.

The waters off Morro Bay were closed to surfing for 24 hours after the attack, and winter weather and poor surf has likely kept most people away anyway.

Morro Bay Harbor Director Eric Endersby subsequently told the San Luis Obispo Tribune that the bite seen on the man was consistent with that of a great white shark. The cause of death has yet to be confirmed by the county coroner.

This is the first fatal shark attack off the California coast since a May 2020 incident near Santa Cruz in which a 26-year-old surfer was killed.

As the New York Times notes, via data from the Global Shark Attack File, this is the first fatal shark attack in the U.S. this year, and the eighth worldwide. There were three fatal shark incidents in the U.S. in 2020, including the Santa Cruz death, and others in Hawaii and Maine. And indicating the rarity of such attacks, even non-fatal ones, there were 448 non-fatal shark attacks in the U.S. between 2011 to 2020, and only seven fatal ones.

The overall global trend has been toward decreasing fatalities in these attacks, which is credited with heightened public awareness and safety measures taken at shark-frequented beaches.

It's estimated that 61% of all shark attacks on humans occur among those participating in board sports in the water — which experts have said likely due to people's splashing and general activity attracting sharks near the shore looking for seals.

Photo: Marcello Cidrack