With drones making spying on sharks easier than ever, videos of close encounters where swimmers and surfers are oblivious to the predators’ presence have become commonplace. What’s not common is to see people willingly flock to a shiver of sharks to hang out with them. But that’s exactly what happens every summer on the shores off the coast of La Jolla in San Diego, California.
Between June and September, the La Jolla coast plays host to hundreds of pregnant female leopard sharks, with August and September being the peak months for shark sightings.
These sharks, which get their name from dark gray dark spots covering their light gray backs, are totally harmless to humans. They mostly eat crabs, shrimp, worms, clams, and some species of small fish like anchovies. And they crowd the shallow waters of La Jolla for the same reason that humans do: the weather.
Leopard sharks love warm water as much as we do
Andrew Nosal, who teaches marine biology at the University of San Diego, says the topography of the La Jolla canyon helps to trap warm water. And the pregnant, cold-blooded sharks are attracted to that. Explains Andrew:
They seem to be attracted to warm water, and what we think is happening is these pregnant females are essentially incubating their developing embryos, kind of like a mother bird sitting on eggs to keep them warm.
The gestation period for pregnant leopard sharks can be as long as 10 or 11 months. Moreover, these sharks give birth every year. As such, speeding up gestation with warmer waters gives the creatures more time to rest and find a mate, Andrew tells.
After leaving California, the sharks are known to swim north – though researchers like Andrew have still not figured out exactly where they go. But whenever a pod makes its way back to La Jolla for the summer, ecotourism flourishes. And this year is no different.
A school of leopard sharks has returned to La Jolla, and you can spot them not too far from the shore.
Let’s watch the longer version…
Drone video: swimming with sharks in California
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