Investigators have determined through DNA that a great white shark killed the 42-year-old man on Christmas Eve.
Tomas Abraham Butterfield headed into the Pacific Ocean with his wetsuit, fins and a bodyboard around 10 a.m. Christmas Eve. He was visiting his mother in Morro Bay last Christmas. The waters were turbulent at the spot known to locals as “the Pit” just north of Morro Rock, but Butterfield was an avid outdoor enthusiast.
Less than 45 minutes later, a surfer spotted Butterfield’s body floating in the water. He was 42.
Investigators determined that a shark bit Butterfield on multiple parts of his body, according to a San Luis Obispo County coroner’s report released March 16. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife would later confirm through DNA samples that it was an approximately 16-foot great white shark. Butterfield was bitten on his head, right shoulder and the right side of his chest, according to the autopsy report that was first reported by the San Luis Obispo Tribune earlier this week after a public records request.
Butterfield died within minutes of the attack, according to pathologist Dr. Joye Carter’s findings. His official death was listed as “complications of multiple penetrating blunt force trauma injuries.”
On the day of the attack, surfers brought Butterfield’s body from the ocean to the beach. San Luis Obispo County sheriff’s Det. William Miller said it was clear that Butterfield was attacked by a shark when he viewed the body supine on the bodyboard on the beach, according to the autopsy report.
Injuries to Butterfield’s body included head wounds and a large cut that exposed a “gaping injury” and extended from his back to his chest and abdomen, Carter wrote. The coroner’s report found no evidence of foul play, drugs or alcohol in Butterfield’s system at the time of his death.
Authorities returned Butterfield’s belongings to his relatives, including his torn wetsuit and a shark tooth fragment that went to his brother, according to the report.
Butterfield is the second victim of a fatal shark attack in San Luis Obispo County in the last several decades, according to John Ugoretz, environmental program manager with Fish and Wildlife’s marine study division.
“Shark incidents are extremely rare,” Ugoretz said when reached by phone. “Since the 1950s, there have been 15 fatalities in the state of California.”
The Shark Lab at Cal State Long Beach analyzed the DNA samples from the incident, according to Ugoretz. There were no reports of shark sightings before the attack on Christmas Eve.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.