SAN DIEGO — Summertime in San Diego means its time for locals to break out the beach gear to hang out at one of the region’s sandy shores. That includes some of our aquatic friends, who have just arrived for the season.
Every year, thousands of leopard sharks swarm to the coast near La Jolla, hanging out for a couple months just beyond the breaking waves at the southern end of the Shores Beach.
It’s the largest annual aggregation of leopard sharks in the world, with kayakers, swimmers and divers all flocking to the region to swim among the generally harmless creatures.
The leopard sharks off the San Diego coast during the season are almost entirely female. Many of them travel to the shallow waters while pregnant to help their pups grow in the calm, warm waters — an ideal natural incubator.
There’s also an abundance of food in the sandy reefs, including clams, crabs, shrimp, squid, fish and fish eggs — attracting the spotted creatures to the San Diego area.
The presence of leopard sharks in La Jolla typically is at its highest during the summer months, which is their mating season, beginning in early June and running through September or October. While most leave after the season concludes, a couple hundred sharks stick around into the winter months.
In the next couple months, San Diegans can spot their marine neighbors off the coast by looking for their distinctive saddle-shaped bands and color pattern. According to the San Diego Birch Aquarium, these friendly predators have about 13 bands over their backs and down the length of their body.
Beachgoers who want to see the leopard sharks while they hang around in San Diego could do so by scheduling a kayaking or snorkeling tour.
Locals can also see leopard sharks just by swimming out into the water at La Jolla Shores Beach themselves. For those that want to try to find some without a guide, you might be able to see a few just by wading into the water up to your knees or hips.
If you encounter one, there’s no reason to be scared of them, as the sharks do not bite or bother humans unless provoked. The Birch Aquarium says that if you’re respectful of them, then you can expect they’ll be the same towards you.