Leopard Sharks Gather near La Jolla, California

Each July to September, leopard sharks congregate along La Jolla Shores in California. Here's how you can see the harmless sharks up close.

Leopard sharks gather along the La Jolla Shores in California. Photo by San Diego Tourism
Leopard sharks gather along La Jolla Shores in California. Photo by San Diego Tourism

The words “shark” and “beach” are usually not a good combination. Shark sightings are a dreaded and feared occurrence for many beachgoers.

But not for those along La Jolla Shores in Southern California. Each year between July and September, this scenic coastline, called San Diego’s “Jewel by the Sea” for its turquoise coves, white sand beaches and Underwater Park teeming with marine life, is home to hundreds of leopard sharks.

In fact, many people believe that it’s the largest annual aggregation of leopard sharks in the world.

That’s no cause for alarm, though, because these beautifully spotted creatures are quite harmless. Timid and docile, they forage for crabs and small fish along the ocean bottom. There has never been a report of anyone being bitten by a leopard shark.

A leopard shark swims along the coast of La Jolla, California. The sharks congregate each May to September. Photo by San Diego Tourism
A leopard shark swims along the coast of La Jolla, California. The sharks congregate each July to September. Photo by San Diego Tourism

The leopard sharks are drawn to La Jolla Shores because of its warm, calm shallow waters which provide a natural incubator. Most of the sharks that come to La Jolla are pregnant females. They bear live young, and a litter typically consists of around 15-20 babies.

The La Jolla coastline has abundant food in the kelp forests, rocky reefs and sand of the protected preserve. Leopard sharks can grow up to six feet long, and have small mouths and teeth, which are perfect for feedings on crustaceans and bony fish. The sharks feast on fish eggs, fish, clams, crabs, shrimp and squid. Talk about a balanced seafood diet!

The La Jolla coastline. Photo by San Diego Tourism
The La Jolla coastline. Photo by San Diego Tourism

Seeing the Leopard Sharks Up Close

As soon as the sharks arrive along the shores of La Jolla, snorkelers, swimmers and kayakers head out to sea for the chance to experience the creatures up close. While there are many companies that can take you out further, even waders can often experience unforgettable leopard shark encounters. Snorkeling is another great way to see the leopard sharks. (Tip: Since leopard sharks can be skittish, the best way to swim with them is to simply float on the surface of the water without kicking or making any kind of noise, which can scare them away.)

For those who want to see the sharks via kayak, Bike & Kayak Tours-La Jolla offers a 50-minute Leopard Shark Snorkel Adventure and a 2.5-hour combined Kayak and Leopard Shark Snorkel Tour which includes kayaking to La Jolla’s seven sea caves and kelp beds. (Kayak tip: Paddle gently because the leopard sharks are very sensitive to vibration due to the pores in their skin.)

La Jolla kayking. Courtesy of SanDiego.org
La Jolla kayking. Courtesy of SanDiego.org

La Jolla Kayak has a three-hour Leopard Shark Snorkel Tour which includes one hour with a guide who will point out the best spots to view the sharks and two additional hours for guests to continue exploring on their own.

Everyday California also has an Original Snorkel Tour that allows guests to interact with leopard sharks, as well as sea lions, garibaldi, shovelnose guitarfish and more.

If You Go to La Jolla

San Diego Tourism
www.sandiego.org