Snorkel with the Leopard Sharks in La Jolla Shores

BONUS! One more special in our four-part (now five-part) “I Love My ASBS” blog series highlighting why we love San Diego’s Areas of Biological Significance.

A long time ago I went snorkeling for the first time, it was in the Caribbean’s clean tropical water, where without effort, I saw so many soft and hard colorful corals like coral fans and other beautiful species that provide a home for hundreds of fishes and invertebrates.

Snorkel with….Sharks

Let’s say that the first time I was invited to snorkel in La Jolla my expectations were really high. But then they mentioned the magic word SHARKS next to snorkel … and I was sold.

Finally the day arrived, the sun shined brightly, which helped since my tropical bones were still adapting to the cold waters, and I was impressed to see the beach so clean and neat. Did I mention that La Jolla Shores is part of the San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park, establish in 1970 to protect 6,000 acres of shore to underwater habitats. The park is divided into two marine protected areas: the San Diego-Scripps State Marine Conservation Area, which runs from Scripps Pier north to Black’s Beach, and the Matlahuayl (mot-LA-who-ALL) State Marine Reserve, which runs from Scripps Pier south to La Jolla Cove. A state marine reserve is a type of marine protected area where the removal of all living marine resources is prohibited and activities like tidepooling, kayaking, snorkeling and diving are promoted. The day was perfect for some snorkel fun, I got suited up with mask on. They said no flippers needed, so I guessed we didn’t have to go so far to see these “sharks,” but to my surprise, you didn’t need a wetsuit or a mask–just luck to be in the right place at the right time in this Area of Special Biological Significance, located in the southern portion of La Jolla shores (I don’t want to tell the secret…okay, it is in front of the Marine Room). The right time is the summer time and voilà sharks start showing up with their beautiful spots. Yes, these were the leopard sharks (not the tiger sharks in case you got worried like one of my friends).

The amazing experience of meeting the locals

It was almost surreal, the sharks were four to five feet long (they can grow up to six feet) and even their cousins, the shovelnose guitarfish, came to say hello. Even when I was seeing it with my own eyes, I wanted to know why they were here, since it seems like they are hanging out in the same spot around the same time every year. A few months later I got the most recent scientific explanation from a scientist from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Dr. Andy Nosal. He is also a postdoctoral researcher at the Birch Aquarium in La Jolla. He explained that the leopard sharks that congregate in La Jolla shores are mostly pregnant females, which take advantage of the warmer waters during the day (from spring, summer, and fall months) and the local food source (fish and invertebrates in the sandy shores and the California Market squid that they hunt during the nights in La Jolla Submarine Canyon). Again, Mother Nature does it better–I guess if you are pregnant, warm water and yummy food is a good reason to be here, beside no predators so triple score!

What you can do

The only possible inconvenient to these sharks’ pregnancy retreat could be us, so if you want to snorkel with the leopard sharks remember not too close is the best policy. Be respectful, they are not going to hurt you. Really, their teeth are really small and are adapted to crushing their food, which doesn’t include you. If you get too close, it is possible that they just swim away. I guess like any pregnant living organism they just want to have their bellies full and relax! Come visit your Areas of Special Biological Significance like these Underwater Parks in La Jolla Shores, embrace nature with a morning snorkel with the sharks and be part of the solution if you see any illegal discharge of sewage and/or waste, inform the authorities. Obviously remember that this is your place to have fun and enjoy nature so please keep it clean!

For more information on:

Snorkel with the sharks tours:

Areas of Biological Significance
Coral Reef photo from Marine Science Today
Snorkel with the leopards sharks photo from Andy Nosal