(CNN) -- A savvy photographer captured an unexpected, last-minute entry into a surf contest: a great white shark, terrifyingly close to a surfer.

Jordan Anast, a California-based photographer, was taking pictures of the San Onofre Surf Club Contest when he captured the shocking image of the shark, seemingly just yards away from surfer Tyler Warren in the foreground.

Anast took the remarkable photo on October 22 at around 11 a.m., he told CNN. At first, he didn't realize exactly what he had captured. He had shot dolphins before "surfing in the water" and from afar, the animal looked like it might be another dolphin, he said.

"I didn't know until I looked closely after, and saw the structures of the fins," he explained. Then he "realized it was a great white shark."

But he wasn't alarmed by the discovery, he said. "They're always out there, everywhere in California," he said.

He captured a total of six images of the great white shark breaching, he said. He attributed the once-in-a-lifetime shot to a combination of luck and his 400 millimeter telephoto lens, which he typically uses for photographing sporting events from afar.

The photo's online popularity has been "crazy," he said. "Today's been the craziest day ever. It doesn't stop going. [The photo] has its own legs now."

Great white sharks are found across America's coasts, though the exact population in US waters is unknown, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The sharks can be as long as 21 feet as adults and weigh more than 4,000 pounds.

The sharks are listed as "vulnerable" by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and are protected internationally under the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora.

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